by ANDY SEVILLA
Kyle council members violated the state’s Open Meetings Act last week when they met without posting required notice of the meeting and deliberated on a potential bond election aimed at addressing city roads in disrepair.
The Open Meetings Act states that “a governmental body shall give written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting held by the governmental body … A municipal governmental body shall post notice of each meeting on a physical or electronic bulletin board at a place convenient to the public in city hall.”
On Saturday, the city’s mobility committee hosted a public information session in the city council chamber at City Hall. The committee discussed the two road bond options council will consider putting on the May ballot, after receiving direction from council to conduct two informational meetings.
That meeting was not certified nor posted; and a majority of council attended that meeting – Samantha Bellows-LeMense, Diane Hervol, Becky Selbera and David Wilson – and LeMense spoke up to help answer a concerned resident’s question.
“I am embarrassed, because I was unaware of the situation. As it was, I have been under the weather and wanted to attend to show my support and help out where I could,” LeMense said.
“I’m very disappointed in staff,” she said. “Steve Widacki (city engineer) was the staff point person for the mobility committee and it was under his charge to post an agenda, as well as a possible quorum (of council) and I’m very disappointed that that did not happen.”
Widacki responded that since the meeting was only a presentation, he didn’t think it was necessary to post a notice.
LeMense, who sat next to Hervol, did communicate privately with the council member during the meeting, though LeMense said their discussions were not specific to the potential road bond nor on which way they would vote when the matter goes before council.
City Attorney Julian Grant, who is the former Local Government Affairs Section Chief of the Office of the Attorney General, did concede that council members in attendance of the meeting were in violation of state law.
Though Grant’s department is in charge of legal matters, he said posting notice of the meeting was left in capable hands, but a “perfect storm” and “a lot of assumption” led to “our collected fault” in violating state law.
The “perfect storm” encompassed Grant and City Manager Lanny Lambert’s absence from work on Friday, as well as City Secretary Amelia Sanchez’s absence due to her being at school, according to Grant.
“We follow all policies, rules and procedures that require all public meetings, gatherings and city sponsored events to be certified and posted,” Lambert said. “This simply was an oversight. There is no willful intent to violate the law.”
Grant said the state violation does not jeopardize a potential road bond election in May, because no council action was taken at the Jan. 19 mobility committee meeting.
Section 551.141 of the Open Meetings Act provides that “[a]n action taken by a governmental body in violation of this chapter is voidable.”
For her part, LeMense said her comment “was merely to help educate the public,” and as the city council liaison for the mobility committee, she said “(it’s) a very strict tightrope of being able to be there, but not be so involved to sway the committee in form or fashion.”
LeMense told residents in attendance at the Jan. 19 meeting that they could contact their city council member with any concerns, questions or comments they may have with the potential road bond.
“I feel that if you can’t talk to your city council members, then they shouldn’t be representing you,” she said.
The estimated 30 people, including council members, the mobility committee and city staff, that attended the meeting were greeted with a stack of papers that included a survey, a tax rate impact analysis and estimated project costs.
City staff, who have presented the potential road bond facts to several groups abundantly, offered residents in attendance details and visual aides that left many residents leaning toward supporting the road bond option that would reconstruct all five roads identified as priority in a 2012 city visioning process – Bunton, Burleson, Goforth, Lehman and Marketplace Roads.
Concerns of clogging downtown Kyle surfaced after the presentation of a road bond option that would engineer all five roads, but only reconstruct Bunton, Burleson and Goforth roads.
Some residents also took issue with the order in which roads would be reconstructed, which is what prompted LeMense to speak up and assure residents that council members are listening.
The mobility committee, too, took to the podium and offered personal anecdotes as to why all five roads should be reconstructed, which is precisely the recommendation they have offered council.
“I was really proud that the mobility committee has shown so much leadership as far as trying to get information out to the public. I’m very happy that they’re so proactive in this and trying to help the community and trying to keep an open mind as far as what citizens want,” LeMense said.
The survey presented to those in attendance offered residents the ability to choose an the option that better fit their desire – engineering and reconstruction of all five roads or engineering of all five roads, but only reconstruction of three roads – though they were not presented with the option of choosing no roads for reconstruction.
The survey did allow for comments and the results will be presented to council.
The mobility committee will host its second and final public information session on the potential road bond at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26 at City Hall.