DEC Handbook - Open Meetings Act
Open Meetings Act
The Open Meetings Act applies to all meetings of UIL committees at the state and district level. All UIL committees are required to follow proper posting and other requirements of the Open Meetings Act.
Information regarding the Texas Open Meetings Act is available on the Texas Attorney Generals website located at: www.oag.state.tx.us
Open Meetings Act Training
Frequently Asked Questions Relating to the Open Meetings Act:
- What is the Open Meetings Act?
- The Open Meetings Act, codified at chapter 551 of the Government Code, provides that meetings of governmental bodies must be open to the public except for expressly authorized executive sessions. The Act also provides that the public must be given notice of the time, place, and subject matter of meetings of governmental bodies.
- What is a quorum and what is its significance?
- The Open Meetings Act defines a “quorum” as a majority of the governing body unless otherwise defined by applicable law, rule, or charter. A quorum of a governmental body’s members must be present in order for the governmental body to exercise the authority delegated to it.
Under some circumstances, less than a quorum of a governmental body may be subject to the Open Meetings Act.
See Esperanza Peace and Justice Center v. City of San Antonio, 316 F. Supp.2d 433 (W.D. Tex. 2001) (“walking quorum”).
See Willmann v. City of San Antonio, 123 S.W.3d 469 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2003, pet. denied) (subcommittee of city council).
- Who may attend an executive session?
- Only the members of a governmental body have a right to attend an executive session, except that the governmental body’s attorney must be present when it meets under section 551.071.
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-6 (1983).
A governmental body has discretion to include in an executive session officers and employees of the governmental body whose participation is necessary to the matter under consideration. Thus, a school board may require its superintendent of schools to attend all executive sessions of the board without violating the act.
- Do public officers and employees have the right to require the governmental body to conduct deliberations about them in executive session when the governmental body is conducting such a discussion in an open meeting?
- No. Although an employee who is the subject of personnel deliberations under section 551.074 has a right to an open hearing, he has no right to insist upon a closed hearing. *Keep in mind DEC's do not employ anyone.
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-1191 (1990).
- How detailed should a certified agenda be?
- The “certified agenda” of an executive session must contain at least a brief summary of every specific subject actually discussed, not just those originally intended for discussion. It need not contain a detailed summary or paraphrase of each question or idea presented on the general subject of the executive session. Enough detail should be included to enable a district judge to determine whether the Act has been violated.
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-840 at 7 (1988).
- If a governmental body is unable to discuss all items posted on their notice (agenda) due to time constraints, may it recess the meeting until the next day without having to post another notice?
- A meeting may be continued to the following day without posting a new notice. If a meeting is continued to any day other than the one immediately following, the governmental body must post a new notice.
See Rivera v. City of Laredo, 948 S.W.2d 787 (Tex. App. --San Antonio 1997, writ denied).
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. JC-0308 (1998); Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. JC-0285 (2000); Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. H-1000 (1977).
- May a member of a governmental body make statements to members of the press regarding subjects that were discussed in an executive session?
- The Open Meetings Act does not prohibit members of a governmental body or other persons in attendance at an executive session from making public statements about the subject matter of that session. However, there may be privacy laws or policy concerns which may prevent such persons from divulging the deliberations of a closed session.
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-1071 (1989).
- May a member of a governmental body vote by proxy?
- No. A common law rule prevents a member of a governmental body from submitting a written vote without attending the meeting of the body.
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. LO94-28 (1994).
- Is a governmental body required to let citizens speak at their meetings?
- No. The purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to ensure the public’s access to meetings of governmental bodies so that they have the opportunity to be informed concerning the transactions of public business. It does not provide a public forum for every citizen wishing to express an opinion on a matter. However, if the governmental body decides to allow citizens to speak up, it must not unfairly discriminate, but may establish reasonable restraints on the number, length, and frequency of presentations.
See Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. H-188 (1973).
See also Charlestown Homeowner’s Ass’n v. La Coke, 507 S.W.2d 876, 883 (Tex. App.--Dallas 1994, writ ref’d n.r.e.).
See also Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0169 (2000) (notice for public comment sessions).
- Who enforces the criminal provisions of the act?
- District courts have jurisdiction over criminal violations of the Act as misdemeanors involving official misconduct. Thus, complaints should be presented to the district attorney or criminal district attorney. The Office of the Attorney General has no independent enforcement authority, but local prosecutors may request assistance from the Attorney General in prosecuting criminal cases, including those arising under the Open Meetings Act.
See Tovar v. State, 978 S.W.2d 584 (Tex. Crim. App. 1998).
- What kind of notice of meetings does the Open Meetings Act require?
- There are many questions about the adequacy of notice and no short answer to them. These questions need to be addressed individually in the context of the relevant facts, so we usually cannot do more than state the test for adequacy of notice and possibly mention some of the cases that have applied the test.
See Open Meetings Act Handbook at http://www.oag.state.tx.us/index.shtml
Section 551.041 of the Government Code provides that “[a] governmental body shall give written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting held by the governmental body.” Most of the questions about notice concern the adequacy of the subject. The notice must identify the subjects of all deliberations, including those that may take place in executive session. The notice must be sufficient to inform the general public of the subjects to be considered, and if a subject is of particular interest to the community, more specificity may be required.
Many governmental bodies post the agenda of the meeting with the notice or as the notice, so many people use the terms “notice” and “agenda” interchangeably to refer to the posted document.