Texas Open Meetings Act
The Texas Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Title 5A chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code define the law.
Relevant legal cases
- See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA
Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in Texas. For more information go the page or go to Texas sunshine lawsuits.
(The cases are listed alphabetically. To order them by year please click the icon to the right of the Year heading)
|Tovar v. Texas||1998|
Proposed open meetings legislation
We do not currently have any legislation for Texas in 2010.
Which government meetings are open to the public?
The law states that a meeting is any gathering of a quorum of the members of a public body with the intention of deliberating and deciding on public policy.
Notable exemptions to this definition include:
- Chance gatherings
- conferences, ceremonial events, and press conferences which the members of the public body attend but do not deliberate or discuss public policy
What government bodies are subject to the laws?
The act defines government body as all boards or committees of the executive or legislative branches of the state as well as all municipal governing bodies, school boards, local workforce development boards and nonprofit corporations that receive federal or state funds or provide water or waste water services to a municipality. The act also explicitly includes property owners' associations which have mandatory membership, and assess taxes and dispense funds.
Notable exemptions to the definition of public body include:
- Entirely federally funded agencies
- Medical boards or medical committees when discussing personal medical or psychiatric information
- Texas department of insurance
- Board of Pardons and Paroles
- Credit Union Commission
- The Finance Commission of Texas
- State Banking Board
- School Districts with regard to complaints about students and teachers
- Public power utilities when discussing trade secrets
The legislature falls under the definition of public body found at Texas Government Code 551.001 and is subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act. To reinforce this, the legislature goes on to state, "In this chapter, the legislature is exercising its powers to adopt rules to prohibit secret meetings of the legislature, committees of the legislature, and other bodies associated with the legislature, except as specifically permitted in the constitution."
The governmental body must provide 72 hours notice including an agenda for all public meetings so as to allow the public to participate in discussions. The government body does not have to post notice if it reconvenes a meeting from a previously open session in the same day, so long as it provides adequate notice in the first meeting. In cases of emergency and catastrophe, a public body may convene a meeting without notice so long as it convenes it within 72 hours of the catastrophe, so long as the action is taken in good faith and the public body has contacted all news media outlets who have requested notification of emergency meetings. These notice provisions do not apply when a subject is raised by a member of the public at the meeting that was not expected or covered by the notice's explanation. Statewide agencies require notice to be posted 7 days prior to the meeting by the secretary of state. The notice of a legislative committee meeting is as provided by the rules of the house of representatives or of the senate.
Elected and appointed public officials in Texas complete a training course (between one and two hours long) about open meetings and their obligations to this act so that they are fully aware of their responsibilities as the Open Meetings Act defines.
A government body must keep minutes of every meeting, including all subjects discussed and all votes taken. These minutes are considered public records and must be made available to the public.
A person attending the meeting as an audience member is allowed to record all or any part of a governmental body's open meeting, using either audio or video recording equipment.
|Common executive session exemptions|
|Personal privacy (including employees)|
|Purchase or sale of property|
|Exempt under other laws|
Executive sessions can be called within an open meeting for the following reasons:
- For matters falling under the attorney-client privilege about pending or contemplated litigation or a settlement offer. It is also permissible to close the meeting if the duty of the attorney to the governmental body under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of Texas clearly conflicts with the act.
- To discuss the purchase or sale of property
- County commissioners courts of a county with a population of at least 400,000 and the Texas Facilities Commission when discussing contract negotiations
- to discuss prospective gifts or donations
- to discuss "appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal" of a public officer, employee or advisory board member, or to hear complaints about employment
- The board of trustees of the Texas growth fund can hold a closed meeting to receive information from the employees of the Texas growth fund or a third party relating to an investment or a potential investment by the Texas growth fund in a private business entity.
- security information
- to discuss business information collected from potential local businesses
- to discuss examination information
No final action can be taken during a closed session. All closed cessions must have a certified agenda and record the entirety of the meeting using audio recording equipment. The record must be retained for two years and made available to the courts should a trial come about because of the meeting.
Executive session is a meeting where governing boards or legislative bodies are said to be engaged in executive business. Executive business can be hiring or firing discussions, contract negotiations, or other strategic discussions.
These meetings can be open to the public though usually they cannot participate. Executive sessions in regards to local bodies or smaller organizations often are closed door, forbidding the public from attending the meeting or restricting access to those records.
Executive sessions are designed to protect individual members of the board from public rancor over their specific input. In most deliberative bodies, individual members sometimes need the freedom to speak their minds, or engage in sensitive topics without being individually target-able by the public. Despite this need, the final results or decisions by the board at large are always subject to public scrutiny.
If any provisions of this act are violated and action was taken during the illegal meeting, the action can be voided. Violators are subject to judicial review and can be found guilty of a class C misdemeanor which is punishable by fines of $100-$500 and/or jail time between 1 month and 6 months.
- "Open Meetings Act Made Easy," Texas Attorney General
- "Open Meetings Act Handbook," Texas Attorney General
- Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
In the News
- "Cameron County DA's office dismisses Star's open meeting complaint," Valley Morning Star, Sept. 16, 2010
- "Meetings legality questioned," Weatherford Telegram, Aug. 31, 2010
- "Corpus Christi council cautioned to curb text messaging during meetings," Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Sept. 9, 2010
- "KTRU radio station not named in generic Regents meeting agenda; descriptions must be specific under Open Meetings Act," Texas Watchdog, Aug. 19, 2010
- "Chair of board on Head Start funding says group not covered by state open meetings law," Texas Watchdog, March 19, 2010
- "Secret meeting in Big Spring? Activist leads effort to file suit after city held hasty meeting on tax issue," Texas Watchdog, March 17, 2010
State of Texas
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