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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Keeping Citizens Informed
City of Weatherford posts full meeting agendas online.
Weatherford, like most cities in Texas, has to watch its expenditures because of the tight economy.
So the North Texas city is investing a little bit of time on the front to save a bunch later on. Every agenda for every city committee from the city council to the animal shelter advisory board – is posted on the city’s Web site in full. The general public can access all the preparatory information board members receive four days before their meetings.
“It’s easier for the public to access, retrieve anything,” says Laura Simonds, Weatherford city secretary. “We put the whole agenda up, not just the top page. If it’s a planning and zoning meeting, for example, we’ll post the property, the address, what it was before and what they want to change it to. It’s really helpful.”
The Texas Open Meetings Act (OMA) requires meetings of governmental bodies must be open to the public except for expressly authorized executive sessions. The OMA also stipulates that the public must be given notice of the time, place and subject of meetings.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for ensuring training is available to government officials. The OAG also publishes open government resources such as the Open Meetings Act Handbook and The 2008 Open Meetings Act Made Easy.
The Texas Secretary of State’s office maintains an online clearinghouse of meeting agendas and minutes, both state and regional.
Government officials subject to the Act must take a minimum of one hour of training within 90 days of assuming office. The OAG provides training at no charge on its Web site. The act’s purpose is to enable public access to and knowledge and transparency of government decision-making.
When does the OMA apply?
- The OMA generally applies when a quorum of a governmental body is present and discusses public business. It doesn’t apply 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 members of a governmental body are limited in how they can respond to inquiries about issues that are not listed on the posting. Minutes of the meeting must be kept or the meeting must be recorded, and made available to the public.
- Some local governments have chosen to incorporate provisions of the OMA into their procedural rules or ordinances. If there is any conflict, the OMA governs.
Posting the full agendas also allows citizens to keep up on news that affects them.
“We just adopted a recycling program and we had some extra money left over,” Simond says. “So we will give every homeowner 65 and over a free recycling cart. Normally that costs $55. So it helps citizens keep informed.”
Principles for successfully working within the OMA
- Choose a compliance coordinator to screen and post agendas, to record open meetings or take minutes, and to maintain records.
- Post 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.
- Ensure that public officials complete the required OMA training and maintain training records that are available for public inspection.
- Ensure that discussions during open meetings stay within the confines of the meeting notice. Stress to members not to discuss public business during breaks.