Texas cities can’t challenge state’s open-meetings law

Four Texas cities cannot join more than a dozen elected officials in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the Texas Open Meetings Act, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

July 29, 2010

By The Associated Press

PECOS, Texas —U.S. District Judge Robert Junell said the cities of Alpine, Pflugerville, Rockport and Wichita Falls cannot sue Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the state over the act because the issue involved revolves around individual rights.

The open-meetings law bars a quorum of elected members of a government body from deliberating in secret. Violators can face up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

The cities and elected officials argued in a lawsuit filed last year that the act violates the First Amendment’s free-speech protections by barring elected officials from speaking in public or private about public issues. The plaintiffs argued that some communication by a quorum of elected officials, including that done by e-mail or on social-media websites, should be allowed outside of a publicly posted meeting.

The state had argued cities are created by the state and therefore cannot sue their creator for constitutional violations.

Junell concluded that while the state’s argument was overly broad, the open-meetings law is about individual rights.

Rod Ponton, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said yesterday that the ruling would not impact the case.

“All the judge did was say the persons who should sue are the individuals rather than cities,” Ponton said. “Each city voted to join (the suit) because each city felt that individual council members … were unable to speak out. Each of the cities have council members that believe their First Amendment rights are being violated, and they will just be added as individuals.”

A spokesman for Abbott’s office did not comment on the ruling.