Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs pulled an agenda item from an executive session after making sure no council members had questions for the city’s electric utility during a special-call meeting Tuesday.
Burroughs called the agenda item, which appeared in similar form on the July 16 and Aug. 7 agendas, a “placeholder.”
Texas law allows the governing bodies of public power utilities to discuss competitive matters in closed session in order to protect them from disclosing information that would give an advantage to current or prospective competitors.
But the statute also lists more than a dozen items that are not considered competitive and not allowed in executive session — budget discussions are among those disallowed in closed-door meetings.
Denton’s “placeholder” item on the agenda read, in part, that the City Council would receive “competitive public power information in the form of a proposed operating budget for Denton Municipal Electric (DME) for the upcoming fiscal year, including without limitation, revenues, expenses, commodity volumes and commitments.”
Earlier this year, DME announced a five-year, $302 million capital improvement program meant to bring the utility into compliance with new federal standards. The city will issue about $190 million in certificates of obligation to help pay for the work and make about 12 new hires at the utility next year.
The special-call meeting was being held after the conclusion of the council’s regular Tuesday afternoon work session.
Prior to the meeting, Burroughs said in an interview that previous executive sessions regarding DME had not addressed the budget and he thought Tuesday’s posting of budget matters could be struck from the executive session agenda.
According to Keith Elkins, executive director of the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, the Texas Legislature changed the statute after Bryan’s electric utility cited “competitive matters” when it declined to provide the mayor of Bryan with salaries of the utility’s executives.
“He couldn’t get the information he needed to build a budget, so the Legislature made some changes as a result of that,” Elkins said.
According to Joel White, attorney with the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, state statutes require a city council, or other governing body of a public power utility, to make a good-faith vote on whether the discussion is a competitive matter. Commodity volumes may be one such item that would be considered competitive but other budget information would not, White said. Furthermore, such a vote wouldn’t make a budget discussion behind closed doors legal.
Prior to the meeting, Burroughs said that, until recently, the City Council routinely voted on whether to go into closed sessions.
“Within the last year, that became unnecessary,” he said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com .