By Anthony Scott and Holly Wise
Killeen Daily Herald
The Kempner Water Supply Corporation board of directors may not have sufficiently notified the public of discussion items on its agenda before its last meeting, which means it could have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Board members and Kempner Water Supply General Manager David Sneed deliberated a possible $10,000 maintenance expenditure without formally placing it on Wednesday's meeting agenda.
Sneed said it's OK to discuss an item not on the agenda because no decision was made. Sneed also said it was included on the agenda within an item labeled "General Manager's Report" with no further description.
"We can talk about anything we want," he said Thursday. "It isn't like we're gonna make a decision. Just because it wasn't on the agenda, doesn't mean we can't talk about it."
At Wednesday's meeting, Sneed said he knew the item wasn't on the agenda and that he didn't expect a decision at the time. He said he received the information earlier in the week after the board packets had been sent to board members.
Still, there was deliberation between the manager and board members during what was supposed to be Sneed's report.
The Texas Open Meetings Act requires discussion items be placed on agendas for the public to have access ahead of the meeting. Past cases presented before the Texas attorney general further indicate that labeling something a "report" doesn't mean officials can speak about any subject at a meeting.
"The Texas Open Meeting Act requires that they be as specific as possible so that the public gets fair notice of the topics that are going to be discussed," said Bill Aleshire, an attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
The open meetings act requires written notices of meetings be provided for the public with the date, hour, place and subject of the meeting. Penalties for violating the act can include fines and incarceration.
"They must tell the public the subject, and manager's report is not the subject," Aleshire said. "A manager's report is nothing more than who is going to speak on the topic, but we still don't know what the topic is."
The attorney general has ruled a couple of times about using examples of meeting notices that say staff report or city manger's report, Aleshire said.
"The attorney general points out that usually the manager whose about to give the report knows darn well what the topics are in advance, at the least the (manager report's) topics. So they could give fair notice," he said.
In October 2008, the attorney general gave an opinion on the city of Corpus Christi using "City Manager's Report" as an agenda item. It did not include the subjects to be discussed.
"The notice at issue does not sufficiently notify a reader, as a member of the interested public, of the subjects to be addressed at a meeting subject to the open meeting act," the opinion summary stated.
The attorney general determined that the subjects to be addressed at a meeting can presumably be ascertained by the governmental body in advance.
"They can't just start deliberating that issue because it wasn't on the agenda, and the (previously mentioned attorney general's) opinion discusses that," Aleshire said.