Texans took one step forward in the open government debate last week, but it certainly wasn’t at the hands of government officials.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Texas Open Meetings Law, which was under attack by city council members from Alpine.
Alpine council members complained that the penalties in the law violated their First Amendment rights.
But Alpine can’t possibly be the only ones doing such “behind the scene” emailing, thus making decisions behind “closed doors,” so to speak. No way, no how.
All city council members, mayors, school board members and superintendents have to tiptoe along a very fine line when it comes to open meetings and open records. They should not – as it is illegal – discuss topics of public concern, public financing, public employees as a group – in closed sessions, in text messages, in emails. They can’t tweet about it; they can’t text about it, they can’t meet in small groups and talk about it.
That’s because the Texas Open Meetings law says the public has a right to know – and to see – what is being said by each and every member.
Alpine has been fighting the initial court ruling against the council members for many years. There were two indictments against council members for holding such email discussions about public matters; those indictments were eventually dropped. According to the National Newspaper Association, which appeared in an amicus brief before the Court of Appeals, the council members continued to argue their side of the story, saying that fear of criminal prosecution inhibits their free speech.
Really? Council and school board members are free to speak their minds. In fact, most taxpayers would LOVE to hear their true thoughts. They would LOVE an honest answer from the dais.
What the Alpine officials feared, as do so many elected officials, is that what they said might make someone angry. Big deal. This editorial surely will make some people angry, namely people serving on boards who want to be able to make decisions without public scrutiny. But, readers – and those officials – have the right to know how this newspaper feels about the Texas Open Meetings Law.
The fact of the matter is that we all have the right to know how OUR government works, how OUR officials are voting and how OUR money is being spent.
See? That’s the deal. Government officials do not control our money or control how we think. They don’t get to make decisions without us knowing about it.
That’s the letter of the law – a law that was put in place so that we ALL know what is going on – not just in Alpine, Texas, but in Hays County as well.
Hurray for the decision by the court of appeals.
Now, council members, speak your minds. In open session. We await your words.