Killeen City Council appeared to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act of 1967 on Monday when Killeen City Council members Ken Wilkerson, Rick Williams and Mellisa Brown attended the city’s update and community forum. Councilman Michael Boyd.

Texas law generally defines a meeting as a “deliberation between a quorum of a governmental body, or between a quorum of a governmental body and another person, at which a public matter or public policy on which the governmental body exercises supervision or control is discussed or examined”. or during which the government agency takes formal action.

However, a “meeting” can also be defined as a meeting at which “a quorum of members of the governing body is present” or a meeting at which members of the governing body “receive information, give information, pose questions, or receive questions, from any third person, about public affairs or public policy over which the government body exercises supervision or control”.

This last definition is all the more important since Bill Aleshire, a 21-year-old lawyer, former Travis County judge and expert in the field of transparency in government, said the case appeared clear.

” It does not matter ; they could sit like potted plants and ask other people to present information to them, and it would still be a meeting under the Open Meetings Act if a quorum is present,” he said. declared.

A quorum is defined by Texas law as “a majority of the governing body, unless otherwise required by applicable law or the charter of the governing body.”

In the case of Killeen City Council, a quorum is at least four members of City Council or three members of City Council and the Chair, who in the case of Killeen would be Mayor Debbie Nash-King. Nash-King was not present at the forum.

To his credit, Boyd informed the crowd of approximately 53 residents and city staff that there was a quorum of city council members present when Brown entered; however, Boyd’s warning, while in good faith, does not constitute proper advice.

According to Texas sun laws, proper notice must arrive 72 hours before the meeting, include the specific items to be transacted, and must be posted “in a place readily accessible to the public.”

Silence of municipal administrators

In this case, the city regularly posts notices of meetings of the city council on the city’s website and physically at the city hall. Notable exceptions to the posting rules include disaster and emergency situations.

Aleshire explained that although a notice was posted stating that the forum would take place, if it was not posted on the city’s website and physically at city hall, and until did not specify that a quorum of council members would be present, the meeting would certainly be in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Killeen town administrators did not respond to questions from the Herald last week about the Monday evening forum where a town council quorum was reached without public notice.

“Is this a violation of the law on public meetings? Does the city plan to do anything about it? the Herald asked city officials Tuesday morning.

The email was not answered until Thursday morning when Killeen spokeswoman Janell Ford said, “Hi, apologies…I can work this.”

On Saturday evening, no further response from the city was sent to the Herald.

City of Top Killeen staff were well aware of the meeting and several of them attended, including Deputy City Manager Danielle Singh, Chief of Police Charles Kimble and Joe Brown, Executive Director of city ​​recreation services,






Killeen Police Chief Charles Kimble (right) speaks to a resident at Killeen Councilman Michael Boyd’s community forum on Monday evening. Other city staff are Deputy City Manager Danielle Singh (middle) and Kevin Watkins, the city’s director of code enforcement.




Residents of District 4

During Boyd’s forum Monday night, held at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, the councilman described Wilkerson and Williams as members of the public and residents of District 4, which covers western Killeen. However, Stratta v. Roe, a 2020 case in which a member of the Brazos Groundwater Conservation District Board of Directors was denied the opportunity to speak during citizen feedback, established that the public position of a civil servant outweighs his rights as a private citizen. The resulting court case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had the following to say:

“Whatever Stratta’s rights were overridden by his status as a member of the board, and the board properly restricted Stratta from speaking at the meeting.”

Context is important, however. Wilkerson and Williams arrived before the forum and left once it was over. Mellisa Brown arrived after the meeting had started and remained present for the duration of the meeting, but took no action to leave.

Councilwoman Jessica Gonzalez was also briefly present at the meeting, but said she left once she realized she was not the only council member present. The Messenger did not see her present at the meeting.

Brown, the city responds

Mellisa Brown responded to a request for comment on Thursday.

“Honestly, I saw the event happening and went there to hear first hand from the residents what they had to say about what was going on,” she said. “I had no idea, other than Michael of course, that other (other board members) were going to be there.”

Brown said his understanding of the Texas Open Meetings Act allowed council members to attend social functions, as long as less than a quorum of council members spoke on city business.

“My understanding is that even if we all show up to the same public social event, any place or any time, as long as we’re not all talking about town business that’s going on, we’re still fine,” she said. “As I said, the general rule we’ve been told is that as long as we don’t all talk about town business, or four of us talk town business together and don’t don’t have the discussion.”

All public officials who fall under the Texas Open Meetings Act are required to undergo training at the start of their respective tenure.

Additionally, Brown also claims that Boyd’s Monday forum constituted a social function, which Texas law allows. However, this is only to the extent that the discussion of public affairs is “incidental” to the event, not the center of attention.

Monday’s forum was directly related to town business and included presentations from nearly all of Killeen’s major department heads, as well as Wilkerson, who had the opportunity to speak about the town’s new Crime Solutions Committee. .

Responsibility

General liability under Texas law falls into two categories: criminal and civil. Criminal liabilities for violating the law often take the form of fines of up to $500 or up to six months in county jail. Civil liabilities can take the form of a formal injunction to restrain offending parties from engaging in the wrongful activity – such as preventing a board from holding secret meetings – or can reverse actions taken by the group not sanctioned by law. on open meetings.

However, as far as the Herald is aware, no clandestine meeting took place on Monday and Killeen Town Council attempted to take no official action; nor was there any deliberation among the majority of its members. Monday’s meeting, while certainly a violation of Texas law, was likely unintentional and a mistake that can easily be avoided in the future.

If the meeting — and quorum — needs further investigation, it would have to go through the Bell County District Attorney’s Office, which handles misdemeanor and other misconduct by elected officials.

On Friday morning, Bell County District Attorney James Nichols said “to my knowledge” his office had not received any complaints about quorum from Killeen City Council last week while no public notice had been given.

He said that to call this a violation of the law, his office would first have to investigate.

Nichols said anyone is asked to file a report on the situation, and “if it warrants a complaint, we will investigate.”

Nichols said there may be many instances of multiple council members meeting in public places — such as movie premieres or religious events — but there would be no breach of the law.

“It depends on what’s being discussed…and the nature of the public meeting,” he said. “There are things you can get away with.”

Herald writer Jacob Brooks contributed to this report.