in Houston, Texas
Nueces County commissioners dispense with public comment, meet in closed session for hours on redistricting
Thursday, Mar 08, 2012, 01:54PM CST
By Steve Miller
closed sign

The Nueces County Commissioners Court met Monday with a very limited agenda; the executive session was the meeting.

The topic was the redistricting of the county’s commissioner precincts, therefore was not an issue of public money. Instead, it was a matter of how and who that public could vote for in the future, and where.

So the board met, for seven hours beginning at 2 p.m. It ignored the order for public comment on the agenda, instead skipping that at the meeting’s outset and saving it for, well, much later. As if anyone was lingering outside the shuttered doors, just waiting to exercise their right to speak to the people they pay to lead.

A group of unhappy residents were waiting for the commissioners to emerge and asked why they were not allowed to be part of the redistricting process.

"Why could they not sit down with us?” one asked in an interview with KIII Channel 3. “And why were they behind closed doors last night? That should have been a public hearing on a compromise plan. They should have gotten input from us instead of making us wait hours upon hours.”

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times fired off a dead-on editorial on the abrogation of transparency, and pointed out that County Judge Loyd Neal was more than arrogant; he acted as though he was doing the residents a favor by “allowing” a public comment on the agenda.

"Commissioners Court is under no obligation to have public comment," Neal is quoted as saying.

The editorial points out that Neal is correct.

It goes on to wrap up the whole problem with one paragraph:

The legal stakes discussed behind closed doors never should have been hidden from the public. Had the legal stakes been a potential monetary settlement, which is what people usually think when they hear "lawsuit," then going behind closed doors might have been warranted. But in this case the only money at stake was the billable hours racked up by those three outside attorneys.

Clearly the closed session was legal. There were lawyers involved, and that is almost always an automatic for closed session, if the body decides to do that. But remember, a government body can also elect to carry on in public. Maybe voters will remember that.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of 'closed' sign by flickr user tonx, used via a Creative Commons license.

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