Galveston City councilwoman calls foul over closed meeting

gavel

Galveston City Councilwoman Elizabeth Beeton walked into a meeting Thursday evening filled with open meeting concerns.

The primary one affected her appointment to the city Planning Commission, the Galveston Daily News reports. The council moved to go into closed session for the discussion, Beeton objected, but too late, according to City Attorney Dorothy Palumbo.

Beeton confirmed to Texas Watchdog Friday she made her formal request for a public discussion of her appointment when she was briefly in the closed session.

After a few minutes she left that room and verbalized her request for a public discussion again, but council members were now behind closed doors, and they could not hear her.

“I don’t think this is a legal meeting, and I’m not going to participate in it,” Beeton said, according to the story.

The Texas Open Meetings Act allows city councils and other governmental bodies to discuss board appointments in closed session, though they must come back into open session to take the vote. The law allows for a closed, or executive, session “to deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of a public officer or employee.” But the provision “does not apply if the officer or employee who is the subject of the deliberation or hearing requests a public hearing.”

The legal cases on this section of the Open Meetings Act require someone objecting to a closed meeting to do so before that closed meeting begins.

After the closed session, City Council appointed a freshman council member to the Planning Commission.

Beeton said she believes decisions about the board appointments had been made prior to the meeting, though she admitted she had no proof.

“It seems to me what happened is that four members got together and decided how to divvy up the wharves board, the park board and the planning commission,” the Daily News reported her saying. Mayor Lewis Rosen said no such meeting had occurred.

Another concern is a reference by the city attorney to a “catchall” exemption for going into closed session. The newspaper reported:

“She (Palumbo) said the council could put a motion to retire into executive session to a vote but could also simply retire if there were ‘consensus’ among the members to do so. She didn’t say what constituted a consensus or how it should be measured.”

Texas Watchdog put in a call to Palumbo Friday afternoon to seek elaboration on the “catchall” exemption. She was not immediately available, but we’ll update the blog if we hear back from her.

State open meetings law proscribes these notice requirements for closed session:

“A governmental body must give the public advance notice of the subjects it will consider in an open meeting or a closed executive session.”

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Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of 'judge hand with gavel' by flickr user s_falkow, used via a Creative Commons license.