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Galveston City Council again trying to keep public in dark - The Galveston County Daily News : Editorials

November 27, 2014

Galveston City Council again trying to keep public in dark

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Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 12:24 am, Wed Mar 26, 2014.

The agenda for the Galveston City Council’s next meeting includes two assaults on the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The first is a proposal to authorize the city attorney to get an opinion from the Texas attorney general on whether Mayor Lewis Rosen, an ex officio member of the Galveston Housing Authority, is legally entitled to attend executive sessions — that is, sessions behind closed doors.

The second proposal is to seek the attorney general’s opinion on whether the council and the housing authority can have joint executive sessions.

If all this sounds familiar, it was hashed out in 2012.

At that time, the Galveston Housing Authority wisely bailed out of a joint executive session with the council after The Daily News protested.

The Texas Open Meetings Act allows a governing body to retreat behind closed doors with its own attorney to discuss threatened litigation.

It does not allow more than one governing body — each with its own legal interests and its own lawyers — to meet together behind closed doors.

As we pointed out at the time, the law is clear that a governing body can’t meet behind closed doors with someone who might take an adversarial legal position. And, some members of the council at least have given lip service to the idea of stopping the housing authority’s plan to develop mixed-income housing in court.

A joint meeting of the council and the housing authority would be perfectly legal if it were conducted in public.

But how can you claim attorney-client privilege when you invite another party in whose interests are not identical and who conceivably could sue you?

Think of it. You claim you have to meet behind closed doors because the topic is so sensitive you might get sued — then you invite someone who might be on the other side of the lawsuit. The only party excluded from such a meeting is the public.

Maybe, with the clock running down on this council, the public ought to be relieved that the city is at least asking the attorney general whether any of this is legal.

But with a new council coming in May, is this really necessary?

At a glance

WHAT: Galveston City Council meeting

WHEN: 1 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: City Hall, 823 Rosenberg, in Galveston