City’s agenda posting sufficient under Texas Open Meetings Act says 5th Court of Appeals

Mark Baker v. The City of Farmers Branch, Texas, et al. Cause No. 05-13-01174-CV (Tex. App. –Dallas, July 15, 2014)

This is a Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) case where the Plaintiff sued to compel compliance of TOMA.

The City settled a Voting Rights Act lawsuit styled Fabela v City of Farmers Branch.  The City posted it would discuss the Fabela lawsuit in executive session. When the Council reconvened after the executive session it approved the settlement. Baker filed suit alleging the agenda posting was insufficient under TOMA and sought an injunction. After an injunction hearing, the trial court determined the notice was sufficient and dismissed Baker’s claims with prejudice. Baker appealed.

The Dallas court of appeals noted the agenda specifically listed an executive session, specifically identified §551.071 to discuss pending litigation with Fabela and listed the cause number. The court disagreed with Baker’s argument the agenda should have listed the City was considering settling the matter, dismissing the appeal, and paying Fabela a lump sum. It held the City properly identified the specific lawsuit and alerted the public to discussions regarding that lawsuit. The law does not require the notice to disclose strategies that might be discussed in the closed session or every consequence which may result from the discussion.  To require the specificity argued by Baker would defeat the purpose of the provision which authorizes private consultations between the governmental body and its attorney.  Baker’s argument that the City had already reached the decision to settle and merely “rubberstamped” the decision in open session. However, even given the City Manager’s statement that the City had an agreement in principle prior to the meeting, Baker failed to establish how any statement establishes the City Council met outside of its posted meeting. The Open Meetings Act does not prohibit the council members from expressing in a closed session how they intend to vote when they go back into open session. As a result, Baker failed to establish any TOMA violation occurred. The trial court properly dismissed his claims.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here. Panel: Justice Lang-Miers, Justice Bridges and Justice Francis. Opinion by Justice Lang-Miers. Attorneys for Appellant Mark Baker are Mitchell Madden, Melissa Johnson and Thomas Murto, III. Attorneys for Appellee City of Farmers Branch, Texas are Victoria Thomas and Peter Smith.

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