One important issue I feel City Council hopefuls should address publicly before May 11 would be the near-epidemic number of extra closed sessions held since 2008. Several of those closed meetings led to highly controversial decisions off the public radar.
This isn’t a simple matter of legal versus illegal closed meetings, but rather what is justifiable versus unjustifiable in terms of the public’s right to know.
For example, if our City Council held a closed session to choose a site for the next DME substation, that closed meeting would be both legal and justifiable.
If, on the other hand, the City Council met to receive attorney advice enabling the Texas Legislature to create bills to outmaneuver Denton residents’ right to a charter vote, that meeting may be “legal” by strict definition but would be completely unjustifiable from an open-government standpoint.
Similarly, if the City Council used an economic development exception to discuss an (private) Embassy Suites hotel while concealing details of a (public) conference center, such meetings might be legal but, again, would be highly unjustifiable regarding an informed citizenry.
This is a critical distinction I’m not sure our City Council fully appreciates, and it will be a long time before any clarification comes from our current city attorney.
The Texas Open Meetings Act creates some leeway and voluntary exemptions to public disclosure but does not mandate they be exercised.
It’s ultimately left up to a governing body — not its city attorney — to make those judgment calls and to set appropriate boundaries.
David C. Zoltner,