All I want for Christmas is. . . .
Well, I already have my two front teeth. So I’ll just reiterate my perennial request for more public officials who truly understand and abide by the notion of transparency when doing the public’s business.
Somehow, I’m getting a sinking feeling that Santa is gonna stiff me again.
My newspaper sued Odessa’s City Council for violating Texas’ open meetings laws for holding what we claimed was an illegally called executive session. Technically speaking, the mayor failed to cite the appropriate statute in announcing the controversial closed meeting. We also alleged that when the city posted the written notice of the planned meeting ahead of time, the stated reason was misleading. In other words, they wanted everyone to think they were planning to do one thing, when they actually did another.
I won’t bore y’all with the details. But suffice it to say it all dealt with an ongoing controversy that has become a big, hot mess.
The Texas Rangers investigated the matter and determined that while technically the city did violate the law, they could not find intent that might warrant criminal prosecution. So we headed to civil court.
We were bound and determined to put a stop to what we believed was flagrant abuse and manipulation in an effort to avoid the uncomfortable obligation of publicly elected servants to conduct the citizen’s business in open forum. In the days leading up to our lawsuit, we had discovered and reported that since the beginning of the year, the City Council had spent as much time in executive sessions as they had in open meetings. Hmmm. . . .
We agreed to first try to resolve our legal action through mediation, and were pleased with what the mediator proposed for the city’s attorneys to take back to the council for consideration. It was pretty simple:
• Reimburse us for half of our legal fees.
• Agree to follow the state’s open meetings laws in the future.
• Agree to maintain voice recordings of all future executive sessions.
The last condition was the most important for us. We believe that if the council members know they are being recorded, then they might be extra careful in following the law when meeting behind closed doors. And we would have a powerful tool to enforce that – finally!
Well, I thought Christmas had come early and Santa had granted me my wish.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, the City Council actually voted to approve terms of the proposal.
But then I received an email from our attorney last week and was hit with the sobering reminder that Santa Claus is a fiction – just like the notion that all politicians even know what it means to be honest with the people they serve.
The attorney informed me that our co-counsel had received in the mail the draft agreement from the city’s lawyer, along with the check reimbursing us for half of our legal fees.
And the draft agreement stipulated that. . . . waaiit for it. . .
. . . the agreement be sealed from the public.
Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.