Friday, July 29, 2011

Mayor & Past Council Violated Open Meetings Act

Mayor Jeff Steele admitted in an interview to the Ellis County Press (Click Here to View the Article) that he and the members of the City Council intentionally deliberated in private to determine the appointment of Vicky Vandygriff to Matias Leal's vacated unexpired term on May 19, 2011, in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The Ellis County Press (May 26) described the open City Council meeting when Vandygriff was appointed:
"Vandygriff, after just resigning, was appointed by the council unanimously to fulfill the remainder of Leal’s term to the mixed crowd of booing and cheering."

The process Major Jeff Steele described to arrive at the post-election appointment of Vandygriff to another term constitutes a "Walking Quorum" or "Straw Poll" - intent to deliberate in private to avoid discussion in public in violation of the Act is specifically prohibited and criminal sanctions may apply, as well as voiding of whatever action was taken. Intentional and unintentional acts of Avoidance to the TXOMA have resulted in prosecutions and convictions in Texas.

To further quote the May 26 edition of the Ellis County Press regarding Mayor Steele's description of the process:

“There was no group discussion,” said Steele about the vote.
“I spoke to each one of them individually.”
“I assure you, everything has been done by the letter of the law to the T.”

By Mayor Steele's own admission, the Council conducted their actual deliberations, if any, in PRIVATE, CLOSED meetings in numbers less than a quorum to avoid public discussion and then "ratified" their previously decided and agreed upon course of action in the OPEN public meeting. One would be hard pressed to find a more "textbook like" Conspiracy to Violate the Open Meetings Act case given the Mayor's published admission, the audacity of the action undertaked in these closed deliberations and the public's reaction in response. The Spirit of the Law is not in evidence here and the Letter of the Law seems to have been intentionally mislaid somewhere.

To quote "The Open Meetings Act At a Glance" (2006) published by the Texas Municipal League:
"An official can be convicted for participating in an illegal closed meeting, even if unaware of the illegality of the meeting. It is an affirmative defense that the member or the official acted in reasonable reliance on a: (1) court order; (2) written opinion of a court of record; (3) written attorney general’s opinion; or (4) written opinion of the attorney for the governing body."

This is one of the reasons that all elected officials are required under GC 551.005 to attend and certify training completion for provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act - which by the way, both Mayor Steele and Vicky Vandygriff have certificates on file (oops, there goes culpable deniability). The same training requirements are documented in GC 552.012 for the Texas Public Information Act which none of our elected officials seem to have completed in the manner proscribed by law.

The Texas Municipal League advises:
"Despite the lack of a penalty provision, officials should be cautioned that a deliberate failure to attend training may result in an increased risk of criminal conviction should they be accused of violating the Act.".

Regardless of whether the criminal charges are pursued against the Mayor, Bell, Leal, Dyess, Turner, and Vandygriff for their complicity and enabling, at least the current City Council could act on this one violation State Law and remove the Mayor from office before any more harm is done to the taxpaying citizens of this community.

And in case any of our readers were wondering: Yes, we have verified that this type of polling is considered by the current Texas Attorney General staff to be a walking quorum and subject to criminal prosecution as of the date of publication (29 July 2011).

Some of our Open Meetings Act References from the State of Texas Office of Attorney General:

"Open Meetings 2006 Handbook"
page 5 Judicial Decisions
Esperanza Peace and Justice Center v. City of San Antonio
page 5 Attorney General Opinions

"Open Meetings Handbook 2004"
page 51 Porth v. Morgan
page 53-54 Section 551.143-551.144

"Texas Open Meetings Act Made Easy (2002)
pages 35-38 Questions #90 through #97.


Anonymous said...

One must not forget Landrum in the mix.

Editor Publisher said...

Maybe somebody from the Travis County DA's Office would be kind enough to take the case.

Craig Watkins is kinda swamped between the constables and the FBI inquiries and "Wilmer" doesn't resonate well among his staff.

Editor Publisher said...

For the purposes of this specific complaint, Landrum is not at play and has no impact because the offense was committed before the meeting started and Landrum wasn't part of the Council at that time.

There are plenty of other items in that particular meeting to file complaints on that could implicate Landrum. Not this time. Stay tuned.