Risky Business for Open Meetings: Including Announcements and Future Agenda Items
The Texas Open Meetings Act generally requires that a governmental body give written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting held by the governmental body, notice of which must be given at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting. Therefore, a governmental body is generally prohibited from discussing a subject for which notice was not given. However, the Act provides two limited exceptions to the notice requirement: one for reports about items of community interest regarding which no action will be taken and one for inquiries made at a meeting.
A common practice among governmental bodies is to prompt and direct the timing of discussion of one or both of these excepted subjects by routinely including on the agenda for each meeting — which typically constitutes the notice required by the Act — items such as “announcements” and “future agenda items.” Including such items on the agenda serves two convenient purposes. First, it serves as an indication to members of the governmental body that limited discussion of such topics is permissible. Second, it provides a specific place within the course of business for such discussion to take place. Otherwise, members of the governmental body may not be comfortable bringing up a matter that is not specifically stated on the agenda either because they aren’t sure whether the law allows it or because they cannot identify an appropriate time to bring the matter up. However, governmental bodies should be cautioned that including such items on the agenda does not broaden the limited exceptions provided for in the Act. In other words, the permissible scope of the discussion of such subjects is no greater than if they were not included on the agenda at all. The applicable limitations are as follows:
For reports about items of community interest, which would likely fall under an agenda item identified as “announcements,” the limitations are that the item must qualify as being a “community interest” and no action may be taken other than the discussion of possible actions permitted for an inquiry made at a meeting, which are discussed below. For purposes of this exception to the notice requirement, the term “items of community interest” includes:
(1) expressions of thanks, congratulations, or condolence;
(2) information regarding holiday schedules;
(3) an honorary or salutary recognition of a public official, public employee, or other citizen, except that a discussion regarding a change in the status of a person’s public office or public employment is not an honorary or salutary recognition for purposes of this subdivision;
(4) a reminder about an upcoming event organized or sponsored by the governing body;
(5) information regarding a social, ceremonial, or community event organized or sponsored by an entity other than the governing body that was attended or is scheduled to be attended by a member of the governing body or an official or employee of the political subdivision; and
(6) announcements involving an imminent threat to the public health and safety of people in the political subdivision that has arisen after the posting of the agenda.
(Tex. Gov’t Code § 551.0415(b)). This list provided by the Act is not exclusive, so additional topics may qualify as items of community interest, but because the list specifically excludes “a discussion regarding a change in the status of a person’s public office or public employment,” such discussion should not occur under an “announcements” agenda item and should instead be specifically identified on the agenda.
For inquiries made at a meeting, which would likely fall under an agenda item identified as “future agenda items,” the notice requirements of the Act do not apply to a statement of specific factual information given in response to the inquiry or to a recitation of existing policy in response to the inquiry. Additionally, any deliberation of or decision about the subject of the inquiry must be limited to a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a subsequent meeting.
Therefore, regardless of whether a given agenda includes items such as “announcements” or “future agenda items,” members of a governmental body should be cognizant of whether any non-agenda item they bring up would qualify as an item of community interest or as an inquiry; and, members of the governmental body should be cognizant of whether any response they give is a mere recitation of fact or policy or a proposal to put the item on a future agenda. It is common, and perhaps human nature, for members of a governmental body to feel compelled to begin a general discussion of such items when they are raised, but if those compulsions are not stifled, then a violation of the Open Meetings Act may occur.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.
Byron L. Brown is an attorney with the Randle Law Office in Houston, Texas, where his practice areas include municipal economic development, municipal franchises and commercial lease litigation. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a B.A. in Criminal Justice, and earned his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center.