• December 22, 2014

City manager silences council on MUD issue

Email urges no comment on newspaper’s questions

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Posted: Sunday, February 17, 2013 4:30 am

Killeen’s city manager asked council members not to respond to questions from the Killeen Daily Herald as the city negotiates a major land deal that could bring 4,500 homes to south Killeen.

In an email sent to council members Wednesday, Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison said that responding to the newspaper’s questions, “could result in an inappropriate deliberation of an item that you are currently negotiating in public meetings as a body.”

Later in the email, Morrison implied that council members might be breaking the law by responding to the questions.

“In order to avoid any potential violations of open meetings law and to allow this discussion to take place in public meetings as intended by the Open Meetings Act, it is best that you not respond to this reporter’s request,” the email stated.

The Texas Open Meetings Act is a state law that prohibits public officials from meeting in private to discuss business matters. Responding to questions from the media, however, is a government-sanctioned practice for publicly elected officials.

Several Texas lawyers versed in the Open Meetings Act said that answering questions from the media would in no way violate the open meetings law, which is written to ensure discussions do not happen behind closed doors.

Buck Wood, a prominent Austin-based open government lawyer, said, “with absolute certainty,” that the council would not violate the Open Meetings Act by responding to the newspaper’s survey.

“First of all, it’s not a negotiation. (The newspaper) is just asking for opinions,” Wood said Friday.

“If (the council) chooses not to talk to (the newspaper) that is their prerogative, but trying to suggest that the open meetings law has anything to do with whether or not you respond to a reporter is just not the law.”

Wood and two colleagues drafted key amendments to the Texas Open Meetings Act in the early 1970s to ensure greater transparency in Texas government.

“There is not any possible violation of the open meetings law. (The city manager) won’t find any lawyer who will say that that was true,” Wood said.

A spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s office said Friday that the he disagreed with the city manager’s assessment, saying council members would not violate the law by answering the questionnaire.

After hearing the experts’ legal interpretations, several council members agreed to provide answers to the newspaper.

“Why would (the city manager) not want us to answer questions that are about something that is public knowledge?” asked Councilman Jonathan Okray, who agreed to respond to the survey.

District 3 Councilman Terry Clark also said he would respond to the questions.

“I followed the advice of the city manager once he informed me that he had worked with the legal department,” he said. “This is the people’s business and it is discussed in open session.”

Several members of the council said they did not respond to the newspaper’s attempts to contact them because of the city manager’s advice.

One council member, who already had responded to the questionnaire, requested that his comments not be printed after he read Morrison’s email.

In a statement given Thursday, Mayor Dan Corbin echoed the city manager’s email.

“I am not going to answer any of these questions because I don’t think that is an appropriate way to handle the negotiation with the developer on the MUD.”

The Herald plans to run responses from the council after those willing to participate have been given more time to respond.

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4 comments:

  • Eliza posted at 1:32 pm on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 899

    @ District 3 Councilman Terry Clark also said he would respond to the questions.
    “I followed the advice of the city manager once he informed me that he had worked with the legal department,” he said. “This is the people’s business and it is discussed in open session.”
    --------

    I agree w/ Councilman Clark on this subject and wonder why the advice given to Killeen's city manager would be so in-correct.
    When the law is so simple.

    I am glad this has now hopefully been straighten out.

     
  • Eliza posted at 1:05 pm on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    Eliza Posts: 899

    @ Several Texas lawyers versed in the Open Meetings Act said that answering questions from the media would in no way violate the open meetings law, which is written to ensure discussions do not happen behind closed doors.
    ---------------

    The below copy at a glance, of the Texas Sunshine Act/Open Meetings Act describes exactly what can and can not be obtainable by the public or the news media.--
    In my reading , all information of which concerns the people, and why else would there be a reason to have council meetings, unless it Is of an interest to the public and not for a social purpose.
    It is the news agency's duty to report any and all information received to that public.
    The news agency would be re-miss in their duty if they failed to do so.
    --------------


    The Texas Open Meetings Act at a Glance Under the Texas Open Meetings Act (the Act), the general rule is that every regular, special, or

    called meeting of a governmental body, including a city council and most boards and commissions

    (depending on membership and authority), must be open to the public and comply with all the requirements of the Act.
    The Act does not apply to purely social gatherings or conventions

    and workshops, as long as any discussion of city business is incidental to the purpose of the gathering.

    There are seven exceptions that generally authorize closed meetings, also known as “executive

    sessions.” The exceptions include discussions involving: (1) purchase or lease of real property; (2)

    security measures; (3) receipt of gifts; (4) consultation with attorney; (5) personnel matters; (6)

    economic development; and (7) certain homeland security matters. The governing body must first

    convene in open session, identify which issues will be discussed in executive session, and cite the time and applicable exception.

    All final actions, decisions, or votes must be made in an open meeting.

    A governmental body must post an agenda that includes the date, hour, place, and subject of each

    meeting. The agenda must be posted at city hall in a place readily accessible to the public at all

    times for at least 72 hours before the meeting. In addition, for cities that have an Internet Web site:

    (1) a city under 48,000 population must post meeting notices on the site; and (2) a city over 48,000

    population must post the entire agenda on the site. Emergency meetings to address imminent threats

    to public health and safety or urgent public necessity may be called with two hours notice that

    identifies the nature of the emergency. If, at a meeting, someone inquires about a subject not on the

    agenda, any deliberation or decision about the subject must be limited to: (1) a proposal to place the

    subject on a future agenda; (2) a statement of factual information; or (3) a recitation of existing

    policy.

    Cities must keep written minutes (or a “certified agenda” for executive sessions) or recordings of all

    meetings, except for closed consultations with an attorney. The minutes must state the subject and indicate each vote, decision, or other action taken. Minutes do not have to be a verbatim transcript.

    Minutes of open meetings must be kept forever. Executive session certified agendas or tapes must be

    kept for at least two years, and longer if litigation is pending.

    Penalties for violating the Act range from having the action voided to the imposition of fines and

    incarceration. Any action taken in violation is voidable and may be reversed in a civil lawsuit.

    There are four criminal provisions under the Act, including: (1) knowingly conspiring to circumvent

    the Act by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations; (2) calling

    or participating in a closed meeting; (3) participating in an executive session without a certified

    agenda or tape recording; and (4) disclosure of a certified agenda or tape recording to a member of

    the public. Upon conviction, fines may be up to $2,000, and incarceration may be up to six months.

    An official can be convicted for participating in an illegal closed meeting, even if unaware of the

    illegality of the meeting. It is an affirmative defense that the member or the official acted in

    reasonable reliance on a: (1) court order; (2) written opinion of a court of record; (3) written attorney

    general’s opinion; or (4) written opinion of the attorney for the governing body.

    For the detailed Open Meetings Act Handbook, please visit the Texas attorney general’s
    Web site atwww.oag.state.tx.us


     
  • Viktor posted at 11:31 am on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    Viktor Posts: 317

    Has the developer wanting this MUD contributed to any past campaigns by the current Mayor? Also lets not forget Killeen chose to hire a city manager that grew up here & goes way back just like some of the families that propose development projects. Is it surprising that he safeguards information from the public eye while deals are being worked out under the radar?

     
  • Hacksaw posted at 8:14 am on Sun, Feb 17, 2013.

    Hacksaw Posts: 47

    This is what people get away with when they rule over an body that doesn't know what they're doing. Every council member should have known answering questions, on this matter, was their legal right.
    The City Manager should have known he had no right to issue such instructions.
    The people of Killeen need to wake up and start attending your city council meetings. You have no idea the kinds of requests and suggestions that get adopted and never make the newspapers.
    Those that show up get their wishes. If you don't show up you'll never be heard!