Galveston City Council again trying to keep public in dark

Members of the audience wait outside the Galveston City Council Chambers during an executive session Feb. 18 to discuss City Manager Michael Kovacs’ performance. The agenda for the Galveston City Council’s next meeting includes two assaults on the Texas Open Meetings Act, seeking more council meetings behind closed doors keeping the public in the dark on business that should be conducted in the open.

File photo by JENNIFER REYNOLDS

The agenda for the Galveston City Council’s next meeting includes two assaults on the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The first is a proposal to authorize the city attorney to get an opinion from the Texas attorney general on whether Mayor Lewis Rosen, an ex officio member of the Galveston Housing Authority, is legally entitled to attend executive sessions — that is, sessions behind closed doors.

The second proposal is to seek the attorney general’s opinion on whether the council and the housing authority can have joint executive sessions.

If all this sounds familiar, it was hashed out in 2012.

At that time, the Galveston Housing Authority wisely bailed out of a joint executive session with the council after The Daily News protested.

The Texas Open Meetings Act allows a governing body to retreat behind closed doors with its own attorney to discuss threatened litigation.

It does not allow more than one governing body — each with its own legal interests and its own lawyers — to meet together behind closed doors.

As we pointed out at the time, the law is clear that a governing body can’t meet behind closed doors with someone who might take an adversarial legal position. And, some members of the council at least have given lip service to the idea of stopping the housing authority’s plan to develop mixed-income housing in court.

A joint meeting of the council and the housing authority would be perfectly legal if it were conducted in public.

But how can you claim attorney-client privilege when you invite another party in whose interests are not identical and who conceivably could sue you?

Think of it. You claim you have to meet behind closed doors because the topic is so sensitive you might get sued — then you invite someone who might be on the other side of the lawsuit. The only party excluded from such a meeting is the public.

Maybe, with the clock running down on this council, the public ought to be relieved that the city is at least asking the attorney general whether any of this is legal.

But with a new council coming in May, is this really necessary?


At a glance

WHAT: Galveston City Council meeting

WHEN: 1 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: City Hall, 823 Rosenberg, in Galveston

Heber Taylor is editor of The Daily News.

(14) comments

Chris Gimenez

Hubris, the public is grateful that you're here to protect us from these "assaults". Perhaps you should ask the DA if he wants to file charges. Oh wait,these are elected officials. Never mind.

Lisa Blair

Heber is right, previous Councils used executive sessions very seldom for legal and personnel issues. This Council has made a practice of doing the City's business behind closed doors.

Norman Pappous

Had Council-members governed as they had campaigned, this would not likely be an issue.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”

GW Cornelius

More Heber BS to sell papers.

Chris Gimenez

The bottom line for Hubris is that if he believes a violation of the Open Meetings Act has taken place it is the responsibility of the local criminal District Attorney to investigate and take action if justified. So Hubris should present his allegations to the DA at the Justice Center and push for him to do his job. Unless of course this is much ado about nothing.

Steve Fouga

A little off-topic, but relevant: I wonder who the candidates for City Attorney are, when the new Council is seated. The current Attorney helped shape the actions of the Council, especially in regard to executive sessions. I wonder how she became so influential.

Norman Pappous

The City Attorney serves the City Council as an employee. There is no length of time defined - they could be there for a day or ten years.... just like any other employee....

Steve Fouga

Exactly, Mr Pappous! That's why I wonder who the next one will be. Just curious, is the attorney required to be a Galvestonian? If so, I wonder if that requirement is valid. Seems like it would be hard to find an unbiased, unagenda-ed Galvestonian with the legal skills to navigate the morass of dilemmas a place like Galveston must have, for the salary Galveston can afford to pay...

Norman Pappous

The City Attorney is required to live on the island after they have been selected to the office, but you do not have to live on the island to apply for the job.

Jarvis Buckley

I have seen EB refuse to go into executive session because she believed it to be illegal.

Mike Leahy

Norman, can you tell us your best guess: will we finally see Columbo in the rear view mirror after this election or, are we just saddled with her forever?

Dwight Burns

To many, looking in on the City of my birth, one could with reason form the opinion, that Galveston's present governing body has only their own interest at heart and not the interest of the people who elected them and surely not those being directly
affected by their actions and in-actions.

Ellen Morrison

There are some worthy members who consistently bang their heads against the wall in hopes of trying to help their districts and the island.

Then there is the majority, whom I agree fall into your statement. If you look at who is running for mayor, there is only one independent candidate.

Steve Fouga

I've been nothing but pleased by Terrilyn Tarlton's performance in our district. She seems like an honorable person, even noble. Very even-handed, level-headed, and mature. Solid accomplishments, even in stagnant council. Excellent job for a first-term council member.

Sure hope she's re-elected. The City needs someone with her expertise to help navigate the confusing flood insurance situation...

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