in Houston, Texas
Austin officials escape charges in open meetings case, pledge to follow law in agreement with Travis County DA
Thursday, Oct 18, 2012, 12:42PM CST
By Curt Olson
Austin City Hall

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Austin City Council members will avoid being charged with criminal violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act by agreeing to conditions of future behavior.

The move by some city leaders to sign a “compliance agreement” seeks to end the long investigation into accusations city officials violated the open meetings law. Leffingwell and Councilman Mike Martinez signed the agreement this week, and former Councilwoman Randi Shade signed it during the summer, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Under the agreement, city leaders admit no wrongdoing. They will take open meetings classes and have pledged to follow open meetings laws.

“We said from the beginning that (council members) did not do anything sinister or improper. They are hardworking and have made every effort to be transparent, to go beyond what they think is required in the Open Meetings Act, because they all agree open government is a good thing,” Martinez’s attorney, Joe Turner, told the Statesman.

Austin resident Brian Rodgers filed a complaint with Travis County District Attorney David Escamilla in January 2011, contending council members routinely gathered in small groups to discuss city business prior to council meetings, the newspaper reported. A “walking quorum” is a violation of the state open meetings law.

As part of his investigation, Escamilla asked the officials to turn over notes and e-mail records. Media outlets including the Austin Bulldog, an investigative news website, did as well.

The Bulldog sued the city and council in March 2011, arguing officials failed to disclose all emails and other messages regarding city business sent on private accounts and mobile devices. That lawsuit is pending.

By June, the investigation had cost Austin taxpayers $344,000 to hire three separate Austin law firms to advise city officials on the investigation and open meetings issues, according to the newspaper.

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

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Photo of Austin City Hall by flickr user Michael Connell, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
Ken Martin
Friday, 10/19/2012 - 12:01PM

Thanks for posting this story, Curt. What the Statesman story did not include is any information from County Attorney David Escamilla.

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