Despite abiding by the Texas Open Meetings Act, meeting raises concern.
By Wally Perez
The Alamo Colleges legislative agenda for 2017, which was approved by the board of trustees Oct. 18, was discussed without public knowledge during a meeting Oct. 7.
The meeting was not posted anywhere in advance, unlike most of the board of trustees and committee meetings, which are required to be posted 72 hours in advance in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act. The only exception is an emergency-called meeting, which requires two hours notice to the media.
Janel Santos, administrative assistant for special projects and acting board liaison, said in an email to The Ranger that committee meetings are not necessarily subject to the Open Meetings Act.
The Texas Open Meetings Act specifies that if a quorum of members of a governing board of a public institution discusses public business in more than an “incidental” way, it must be in a public meeting.
District General Counsel Ross Laughead said in a phone interview Oct. 25 there is no general prohibition at all in the act to have a meeting of the committee.
“We have to be big enough to have a quorum,” Laughead said.
Most committees are made up of three trustees.
The board’s legislative ad hoc committee is composed of District 1 trustee Joe Alderete, District 2 trustee Denver McClendon and District 5 trustee Roberto Zárate.
Santos said ad hoc committees have a membership far below the level that could constitute a quorum of the board. Therefore, there is no requirement to post an ad hoc committee meeting as an open meeting under the act.
Although a quorum of the Alamo Colleges board consists of five trustees, the matter of a committee consisting of three trustees, who met together in private, raises concern to the public.
Kelly Shannon, director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said it’s possible the members were in accordance with the act, as no quorum of the full board was present and if it was only an advisory board.
“If this committee typically makes decisions that are then ‘rubber-stamped’, or almost always adopted by the full governing body board, it could be considered public and fall under the act,” Shannon said.
Laughead is familiar with this possibility but isn’t concerned.
Laughead said in this case, it’s an ad hoc committee asking for improvements.
“We’re not asking for a new district building to be built or anything like that,” Laughead said. “They still go through two layers of public board meetings for voting.”
He referred to an Oct. 11 committee meeting and the Oct. 18 board meeting.
Because the purpose of the Oct. 7 meeting was to finalize the agenda to move forward for full approval by the board during the Oct. 18 board meeting, it could be considered public as the results of the meeting directly affect the public.
Shannon said many local governments make committee meetings of this type open to the public, just to be on the safe side.
Board Policy B.3.3 regarding board of trustees ethics reads, “Communicate with the public and provide access points for constituent voices to be heard, while maintaining the integrity of the board’s governance guidelines.”
Board Chair Yvonne Katz appointed the current members of the ad hoc legislative committee after her election to the position in May.
“The committee has no power to approve anything aside from expressing opinions,” Laughead said.
“It’s up to the full board to approve items.”
Laughead said the board previously applied the act to the standard committees, but it’s never the case for the ad hoc committees because they’re so far away from a quorum.
“The legislative agenda wouldn’t be adopted without a duly noticed meeting of the board,” Laughead said.
“It’s just having some people put in some specialized effort offline and under the open meetings act.”
The legislative agenda was passed at a board meeting Oct. 18, which was held at the Alamo Colleges Central Texas Technology Center in New Braunfels, 44 miles away from this college.