by ANDY SEVILLA
It is no surprise that council members would want to understand the will of their constituents, especially on matters dealing with taxes, safety and a road bond.
In that effort, a majority of the Kyle City Council attended a mobility committee meeting on Jan. 19. The meeting was not officially posted announcing that a quorum of the city council would be present. Council members Diane Hervol, Samantha Bellows-LeMense, Becky Selbera and David Wilson ended up attending the meeting.
That’s not a problem, except when one of the members actually spoke in public, giving an opinion to a constituent, thus making the meeting in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
A week later, at the first council meeting following the mobility committee meeting, council members joked about their violations.
The following transcript shows the joking manner in which the members talked about the violation before the official start of the council meeting:
Diane Hervol: Hi there
Lucy Johnson: Heard you guys had an illegal meeting? (Laughter)
Brad Pickett: Laughing (inaudible)… great
David Wilson: Yeah well, it’s what the newspaper is going to say. It’s what the newspaper is going to say.
Johnson: did you guys, like, vote on any like huge new bond proposal?
Samantha Bellows-LeMense: Yes, we totally passed everything. We came to a consensus, it was amazing.
The meeting and subsequent jokes devolved at that point, with Wilson finally saying, “Who knows. We have to be more careful. With posting in particular.”
“I apologize,” Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson said Tuesday about the joking banter council members exercised while waiting to begin a scheduled special called council meeting. “I often make many inappropriate jokes in the course of my day, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t take these things seriously.”
Johnson said that the council members who unknowingly violated state law “took it very hard,” and that last week before a special called council meeting, she decided to “joke” about the situation, because “it clearly wasn’t their fault.”
Johnson said she is “very sorry” that her jokes have distracted from the “greater issue.”
City Manager Lanny Lambert, quickly advancing to the council’s defense, said that “graveyard humor or front line humor” is sometimes needed in serious predicaments.
“I see nothing wrong with using humor to diffuse a tense situation,” Lambert said.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently introduced a handbook to clarify and enhance understanding of the Texas Open Meetings Act, emphasizing the importance of government officials to make sure meetings are open and posted properly.
“The Texas Open Meetings Act honors the principle that government at all levels in this state should operate in a way that is open and accessible to the people,” Abbott wrote.
Kyle’s city staff has accepted all responsibility for not posting the Jan. 19 mobility committee meeting and has affirmed the council members’ blamelessness.
The violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act came into play when a council member spoke out during the meeting without realizing that she was violating the law.
Lambert said last week that Kyle follows “all policies, rules and procedures that require all public meetings, gatherings and city sponsored events to be certified and posted. This simply was an oversight. There is no willful intent to violate the law.”
Johnson said city staff has “assured” her that the problem with not posting a meeting would not happen again, and in fact, she said the city has been better at posting meetings than in previous years.
For the third consecutive year, Kyle has received a GOLD Leadership Circle Award from the Texas Comptroller’s office for exceeding government transparency standards set by the state agency, according to a city press release.
The City of Kyle was recognized with having the city’s budget, check register and financial performance reports online. Additionally, Kyle has previous year’s financial audits, contact information for city council members and key staff, municipal codes and past city council meeting agendas and minutes available from the web site, the release stated.
Audio of the council members joking can be found at the top of the page.
- Alleged oversight leads Kyle Council to violate state law 01/23/2013
- Technical issue delays Kyle City Council online agenda 03/15/2010
- Lesson learned 01/30/2013