The people of Texas believe in government transparency. The state’s Open Meetings Act is designed to give the public an unobstructed view of how their government works.
In an era of social distancing, transparency has its challenges. Fortunately, the Open Meetings Act addresses issues of virtual meetings. The Act provides guidance to governmental bodies to ensure transparency.
Telephone and videoconference meetings
Under the Open Meetings Act, telephone meetings can only be held in cases where there is an emergency or in cases where there is a public necessity. However, Governor Abbot has temporarily loosened the restrictions for holding meetings over the telephone. This order should make it easier for governmental bodies to carry out their business with minimal interruption.
The Open Meetings Act is less restrictive when it comes to videoconference meetings. An emergency is not a requirement for holding a videoconference. Governmental bodies must maintain transparency and an openness to the public, regardless of the form of the meeting.
Following open meeting protection requirements
Governmental bodies must follow open meeting protection requirements when holding virtual meetings. These requirements include:
- Enabling members of the public to participate in the meeting. The public must also have an opportunity to address the governmental body.
- The government must provide written notice of the meeting. This notice must contain information allowing the public to participate remotely, usually via a toll-free number or web link. The notice must also include an electronic copy of the meeting agenda.
- A recording of the meeting should be accessible to the public.
It’s not difficult for the public to bring a legal action alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act. Maintaining transparency during these unprecedented times is crucial. Governmental organizations should not have to worry about legal disputes when facing other challenges.