The Dallas Morning News recently ran a story questioning whether the Collin County Commissioners’ recent meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
The story states that Cruz “met with a number of local elected officials on Feb. 7 at the Commissioners Court in McKinney. There was no public notice of the meeting, where water, transportation, economic development and other issues were discussed.”
County Judge Keith Self defended the meeting in the story, telling the News ““It wasn’t an official Commissioners Court meeting, and we weren’t discussing Collin County business.”
But former Collin County Commissioner Phyllis Cole told the newspaper, “That is a violation of the open meetings law. “There should not have been three of them in a meeting discussing county business.”
Charles Christian, a Conservative activist, Republican Party Collin County Precinct 94 Chair and House District 67 Caucus Chair, has submitted a letter to TownSquareBuzz.com stating his views on the subject.
Christian’s letter follows:
It is a sad day when Republican political opponents resort to using the Dallas Morning News to do their bidding. Saturday’s Dallas Morning News article suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz’s recent meeting with a group of local elected officials violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) because three of the five Collin County Commissioners Court members were present at the meeting, along with 13 other elected officials from the region.
The assertion that Judge Self violated TOMA with Sen. Cruz and other local elected officials present is ludicrous and baseless. Making matters worse is the fact that Commissioner Duncan Webb was quoted in the article stating he “had some concerns” about the meeting and this is one of the reasons he did not attend. Webb, the only practicing attorney on the Commissioners Court, is essentially admitting he is ignorant of both the letter and spirit of the law if he believes a simple quorum of Commissioners discussing broad policy issues with a sitting U.S. Senator and other elected officials is a violation of TOMA. Worse still, former Commissioner Phyllis Cole stated that the meeting was in fact a violation of the law. Had Commissioner Webb or Cole bothered to look up the statute, they would have saved themselves some embarrassment.
Broadly speaking, TOMA requires that any meeting of a Texas governmental body be open to the public and announced in advance, with certain exceptions. However, Texas Code specifically defines what constitutes a meeting under the jurisdiction of TOMA. Chapter 4A of Sec. 551.001 of the Texas Code defines a meeting as a “deliberation between a quorum of a governmental body, or between a quorum of a governmental body and another person, during which public business or public policy over which the governmental body has supervision or control is discussed or considered or during which the governmental body takes formal action.” It also defines “deliberation” in the same section, making clear that there must be a verbal exchange between a quorum and another person “concerning an issue within the jurisdiction” of the governing body, in this case the Commissioners.
The meeting with Sen. Cruz clearly fails to meet the standard defined in TOMA. There was no deliberation between the three members of the Court and another member of the meeting or among themselves, nor was there deliberation on a topic over which the Court has supervision. Judge Self made no policy proposals, Commissioner Hill briefly shared his concern about the iniquity in federal transportation dollars, and Reid did not even speak during the meeting. Simply because the extremely broad topic of ObamaCare was mentioned does not constitute discussion of an issue over which the Court has jurisdiction. Other topics discussed were the lack of sufficient federal funds for transportation projects, gridlock in Washington, regional water shortages, and the federal H-1B Visa program, none which the Commissioners Court can affect in the least. For those still in doubt, I would like to hear what action the Court could take based on the discussion that occurred in that meeting. Are Webb and Cole actually suggesting that the Commissioners Court can ban ObamaCare in Collin County, or halt the overreach of the federal government in Texas?
Further, Cole and Webb’s assertion that the meeting was a violation of TOMA ignores the clear intent of the law, which is to prohibit the secretive, back-room deals that we hear of so frequently in Washington. The informal meeting was initiated by Sen. Cruz and local elected officials were invited by his staff to attend. Judge Self, Commissioner Hill, and Commissioner Reid all made mention of the meeting on social media and were open about the discussion topics, so what is the true story here?
It does not take a genius to figure out the real target of the article: County Judge Keith Self and specifically Commissioner Mark Reid. While both Self and Reid are on the ballot, only Reid has a contested primary. This is simply politicking a non-issue to attack proven conservatives. Further, Judge Self appointed Reid, and two of the people Self passed over to appoint Reid are now challenging Reid for the Precinct 1 Commissioners seat. This is another attempt to undermine Judge Self and Mark Reid as his appointment to the Court, and distract voters from the important distinctions in this race. Case in point: Shortly after the article was published, a supporter of one of Reid’s challengers posted an attack against Reid for his participation in the meeting on Reid’s FaceBook page. Nothing will come of the inquiry that Cole presumably initiated, but the story is perfectly timed fodder for a primary election against a conservative incumbent.