in Houston, Texas
McLennan County commissioners hold ‘private vote’ for treasurer pick; Texas open meetings law bans straw votes in closed session
Thursday, Sep 20, 2012, 03:30PM CST
By Steve Miller
solidarity

Commissioners in McLennan County presented a united front on the selection of a new county treasurer, so united that they may have violated the state open meetings law.

Before taking a vote in public, the commissioners took a separate “private vote” to make sure there would be a show of solidarity, according to one of the commissioners.

In this video, Commissioner Kelly Snell allows that he wants to see the county government run “like a business,” which is kind of how he explained a process that would be at home in any corporate boardroom.

Snell told a reporter with the Waco Tribune-Herald that the board’s vote for Bill Helton as treasurer was agreed upon in closed session before coming to a vote in public.

“It was an agreement that the vote that we took in public was a unanimous vote because we don’t want to put anybody behind the eight ball that’s coming in, and we agreed to do that,” Snell said. “We had our private vote in executive session but, you know, we go with the court’s will and the court’s desire.”

It’s possible Snell wasn’t aware that such a move was a violation of state law. In fact, his assertion was even affirmed by colleague Ben Perry, who said, “The body of the court felt that it was very important for us to come to a unanimous decision on both candidates.”

The legal issue turns on whether the commissioners took a straw vote: Was the conversation the type of discussion and deliberation that is allowed under the law? Or did they go around the table, polling each other behind closed doors?

The audio of commissioners court meetings in McLennan County is broadcast live online, and the body appears bent on making its business public. Snell has advocated for the live broadcasts. And in January, the court changed its meeting times from days to evenings, a time more convenient for locals to attend.

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

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Photo of solidarity bumper sticker via OccupyParty.org.

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