The Texas Open Meetings Act and Local Governments
The Open Meetings Act, codified at Chapter 551 of the Government Code, provides that meetings of governmental bodies must be open to the public except for expressly authorized executive sessions. The Act also provides that the public must be given notice of the time, place and subject matter of meetings of governmental bodies. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for ensuring training is available to government officials on the open meetings law. In addition to other resources, the OAG publishes an Open Meetings Act handbook. (PDF, 745.5K)
Local governments should develop a thorough understanding of the Act. Noncompliance may result in civil or criminal penalties. The purpose of the Texas Open Meetings Act is to enable public access to-and knowledge of government decision-making. The open discussion of government business and policy enhances transparency.
Officials who are members of governmental bodies subject to the Act must take a minimum of one hour of training on the Act. A public official must complete the training not later than the 90th day after taking the oath of office or otherwise assuming official duties. The OAG provides training at no charge on its Web site.
Local governments should be aware that the Act generally applies when a quorum of a governmental body is present and discusses public business. The Act is not applicable to purely social gatherings, conventions, workshops, ceremonial events or press conferences, provided no formal action is taken and any discussion of local government business is incidental to the purpose of the gathering.
All meetings must be properly posted, and a governmental body is limited in how it can respond to inquiries about issues that are not listed on the posting. Additionally, during all meetings, either the minutes of the meeting must be kept or the meeting must be recorded. Exceptions to required public disclosure in the Public Information Act do not apply to the minutes or recording of an open meeting. The local unit must permanently retain copies of the minutes of its meetings. And, certain rules must be followed when holding an executive session.
Some local governments have chosen to incorporate provisions of the Open Meetings Act into their procedural rules or ordinances. If there is any conflict between the Open Meetings Act and the local charter, rules or ordinances, the Open Meetings Act governs.
Follow this process to develop effective Open Meetings compliance procedures for cities and counties:
- Choose a compliance coordinator. Identify a staff person with the responsibility to screen and post agendas, to take minutes during or record open meetings and to maintain records.
- Post agendas. Post meeting agendas for the required time period that contain the date, hour and place of the meeting as well as sufficient information to inform the public of the subject matter of the meeting.
- Monitor training. Ensure that public officials complete the required Open Meetings Act training. Maintain records of members’ completion of the training and make them available for public inspection.
- Monitor compliance during meetings. Ensure that discussions during open meetings stay within the confines of the meeting notice. Ensure that members do not discuss public business during breaks.
Texas Open Meetings Act Resources
- Open Government Resources
- Open Meetings Act training
- Open Meetings 2008 Handbook (PDF, 745.5K)
- The 2008 Open Meetings Act Made Easy (PDF, 229K)
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