Sun­shine is best dis­in­fec­tant

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

Re: July 23 com­men­tary “Open meet­ings law is a peril to free speech by elected of­fi­cials.”

What hubris is ex­hib­ited by elected of­fi­cials when they claim that our beloved right to free­dom of speech gives them the right to hold se­cret dis­cus­sions of the very is­sues they were elected to de­cide on be­half of all of us.

What­ever it is that they are afraid to say in a meet­ing open to the pub­lic ob­vi­ously shouldn’t be ut­tered pri­vately, ei­ther. I hope the cur­rent lit­i­gants all get thrown out in the next elec­tion. Mary Nell Mathis

austin

The Texas Open Meet­ings Act pro­motes open govern­ment and cur­tails se­cret deal­ings. It needs strength­en­ing, not weak­en­ing.

Rod Pon­ton’s col­umn to the con­trary is filled with false claims. The law does not un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally cur­tail free po­lit­i­cal speech. It sim­ply re­quires that if a ma­jor­ity of mem­bers of a gov­ern­ing body, such as a city coun­cil, dis­cuss city busi­ness, they must do so at a prop­erly no­ticed pub­lic meet­ing.

Some pub­lic of­fi­cials chafe at risk­ing sanc­tion for se­cret dis­cus­sions about pub­lic busi­ness. They don’t want the real dis­cus­sions of pub­lic busi­ness, and the mat­ters that might be aired, out in the open. They want to cut pri­vate deals on pub­lic busi­ness, of­ten not on the mer­its of a mat­ter.

Strengthen the law. Keep the mis­de­meanor sanc­tion. Add per­sonal civil penal­ties against of­fend­ers. Add en­force­ment by the at­tor­ney gen­eral. Keep govern­ment in the sun­shine — the best dis­in­fec­tant.

Chris Wittmayer chris.wittmayer@sbc­global.net

austin

Dis­parag­ing the Open Meet­ings Act, Pon­ton writes, “In our rep­re­sen­ta­tive form of govern­ment, once an of­fi­cial is sworn into of­fice, he or she is ren­dered mute and can­not speak out about pub­lic mat­ters, ex­cept at a no­ticed pub­lic meet­ing.” That is an ab­surd con­tention.

The law pro­hibits dis­cus­sions by of­fi­cials that com­bine “gov­ern­men­tal busi­ness,” a “quorum of the body,” and “out­side a called meet­ing.” This in­cludes e-mails, letters and phone calls to a quorum.

The mem­bers are free to crit­i­cize oth­ers with the same re­stric­tions on li­bel and slan­der as ap­ply to any other cit­i­zen.

Those who serve the pub­lic de­serve re­spect. Un­for­tu­nately, there have been too many times in the past when those who were sup­posed to serve ac­tu­ally used their po­si­tions to serve them­selves at the ex­pense of their con­stituents. The Open Meet­ings Act helps to pre­vent this.

Paul e. White

austin

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