Council to consider open meetings act amendment

The Odessa City Council on Tuesday will consider passing an amendment to the city code of ordinances “relating to the requirement of all boards, committees, subcommittees, and commissions of (the) city be subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act.”

Their possible action comes one week after the council met privately to review and discuss the open meetings act – a violation of the very law they were meeting about.

City Secretary Norma Grimaldo on Monday said the item was placed on the agenda by council members Mark Matta texted that this would make all boards and commissions subject to the open meeting act.

Alan J. Bojorquez, an Austin-based attorney who gave last week’s presentation, claimed that even though at least six out of seven council members were participating, the meeting was exempt from the Open Meetings Act because the gathering was for “informational purposes” and no council action would be taken. Bojorquez also argued that he called for the meeting, which made it a “private” meeting exempt from state law.

But Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas Executive Director Kelley Shannon and Austin-based attorney Bill Aleshire, an expert on the Open Meetings Act, both dispute Bojorquez’s interpretation of the law.

Prior to the start of the meeting, which was held at the MCM Elegante Hotel, Bojorquez demanded that news media and members of the public immediately leave the conference room.

“It is at least ironic, if not pitiful, that a meeting of the city council called to discuss the Texas Open Meetings Act violated that Act,” Aleshire said. “Contrary to what Mr. Bojorquez said, the Open Meetings Act – and compliance and training for it – is ‘public business or public policy over which the governmental body has supervision or control.’ It turns the Open Meetings Act on its head to claim that compliance with the Act is not public business.”

Aleshire said the city was also in violation for not publicly posting the meeting in advance, as required by state law.

If the council was planning to discuss a lawsuit, “Once the meeting started, they could retire to executive session to receive attorney-client privileged advice,” Aleshire noted.

Council on Tuesday will also consider a settlement agreement with Odessa resident Lisa Zaragoza who has filed a lawsuit against the city. No further information about the settlement or lawsuit is available.

Council is expected to pass a request by the police department to purchase 48 new bullet proof vests at a total cost of $10,370.25. That cost also includes 14 vests and accessories for the SWAT team and 146 rifle plates, Police Chief Michael Gerke said.

The vests will be paid for from donations made to the police department and a $27,200 Federal Government Grant.