Cancelled: Scratching a Public Notice under the Texas Open Meetings Act
The Texas Open Meetings Act, Chapter 551 of the Texas Government Code, sets out the minimum requirements for providing public notice of a meeting of a governmental body and prohibits a governmental body from meeting unless the meeting has been properly noticed. The Act is replete with highly technical requirements for not only providing notice of meetings, but also for conducting those meetings, including that minutes or a recording of the meeting must be taken, that persons in attendance may make their own recordings, that members of the public must be allowed to address the governmental body, and much more. However, there is virtually nothing in the Open Meetings Act or other law that addresses how to cancel a meeting after notice has been given. Therefore, this article will discuss what scant law there is for cancelling a meeting and best practices for cancelling a meeting in consideration of such law.
While the Open Meetings Act prohibits a governmental body from meeting if public notice of the meeting has not been given, it does not require the governmental body to actually meet after giving public notice. Sometimes the meeting does not occur because a quorum fails to meet, which can sometimes happen without warning, such as when a member of the governmental body suddenly falls ill, has unforeseen transportation issues, etc. Sometimes, however, the fact that a meeting cannot or should not be held is known in advance, and in those cases, notice of the meeting’s cancellation may be appropriate, but one should be wary because cancelling a meeting has absolute effect. This concept is one of the only legal matters pertaining to cancellation—once a notice of cancellation has been given, the cancellation cannot be rescinded and the meeting therefore cannot be held despite the notice of cancellation.
In one case, a city had posted notice of a meeting in several physical locations, as well as on the city’s website. Due to a miscommunication, the city secretary believed that the meeting had been rescheduled and wrote the word “cancelled” on just one of the notices physically posted. Under these facts, the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals decided that the meeting being held as originally scheduled violated the Open Meetings Act. Therefore, this case essentially represents that writing the word “cancelled” prominently on just one of several posted notices effectively cancels the meeting and prohibits it from being held at the date, hour, and place originally noticed. But while writing “cancelled” on just one of several notices effectively cancels the meeting, it is generally considered best practice to notice the cancellation in the same manner that the meeting was original noticed, which means posting the notice of cancellation at each physical and internet location that the original notice was posted. If notice of the meeting was also published in a newspaper, then publishing notice of the cancellation should also be considered.
It is also advisable to specifically inform the members of the governmental body—in a manner that does not constitute a meeting itself—that the meeting has been cancelled. This would help to assure that a quorum of the governmental body does not convene under the auspices of the original notice, which as the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals has determined, would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
In short, advance notice of a meeting being cancelled is more of a courtesy than a legal requirement. Additionally, while there may be many ways to notice the cancellation of a meeting in advance, merely writing the word “cancelled” on one originally posted notice is effective, but it is best to indicate cancellation on each original notice posted. In any case, once any notice of cancellation has been given, that bell cannot be unrung, to use a trite legal analogy.
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.