Barbara Gonzales, the Killeen finance director fired in December, opted to have her grievance hearing be an open public meeting.
But minutes before the hearing began Wednesday, city officials told those with video cameras, including the Killeen Daily Herald, they wouldn’t be able to record.
Officials allowed photography and audio recordings, but said they could ban video because the hearing didn’t meet the requirements of the state’s open meetings law.
According to the law: “A person in attendance may record all or any part of an open meeting of a governmental body by means of a tape recorder, video camera or other means of aural or visual reproduction.”
It defines a “governmental body” as “a board, commission, department, committee or agency within the executive or legislative branch of state
government that is directed by one or more elected or appointed members.” Other governmental bodies include school boards, county commissioners courts, municipal governing bodies and “a deliberative body that has rulemaking or quasi-judicial power and that is classified as a department, agency or political subdivision of a county or municipality.”
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Killeen spokeswoman Hilary Shine said the board overseeing the grievance hearing is not considered a “governmental body” under state law. “Our Civilian Personnel Hearing Board meets none of these definitions as it does not have final decision-making power.”
Killeen officials cited “City of Austin v. Evans,” which “analyzed the powers of a city grievance committee and determined it was not a governmental body within this provision. The court stated that the committee had no authority to make rules governing personnel disciplinary standards or actions or to change the rules.”
Killeen’s grievance board is designed to hear appeals from fired employees, but does not have the power to reinstate them. The board can only make recommendations to the city manager.
Catherine Rabb, an Austin-based attorney who works regularly on open government cases, said she had never heard of a governmental meeting that the public could attend, but not record with video equipment.
“If it’s open to the public, then the public is allowed to record it,” she said. “If it’s open, it’s open.”
On his Facebook page Wednesday night, Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin voiced his displeasure with the video ban.
“I was disappointed that the city did not allow the proceedings to be video recorded,” he wrote. “I missed the first part of Gonzales’ testimony but I saw the rest of the hearing until about 2:30 p.m. I thought both attorneys did a good job eliciting the facts from the witnesses. ... I wish you could have seen video!”