Sunshine is best disinfectant
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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