Whatever happened to the slogan: “It
doesn’t just have to be right, it has to look right?”
I knew a great politician, (yeah, there
really are those kinds), that not only said that but
generally lived up to it. I had a couple of our readers send
me a copy of a blog entry made by a reporter who is
relatively new covering the Fort Bend County beat. She
complained of the county’s practice of having weekly staff
meetings to discuss court agendas and then saying little, if
anything of serious relevance during the public meetings.
Some of our readers wanted to know if I knew this was
occurring and if we couldn’t do anything to stop it because
it appeared to be a violation of the open meetings act.
Well, at first glance it kind of does
seem like a violation of the act, but it isn’t, so there is
very little that can be done about these meetings, which are
indeed closed to the public. You see, not all of the
officials show up to the meeting, thus there is never a
quorum in attendance. Instead, top staff members go and hash
out the items and bring the information back to the
commissioners and the county judge. So, it’s legal.
Officials say it does cut down on the
discussions in court but it makes them clear on the issues
and they can get additional information on things that
confuse them. That makes sense. For those of us who cover
the meetings, it is also a relief not to have this confused
state of questioning go on for hours because in the long run
such banter has a tendency to confuse the audience, whether
it is a reporter or the few citizens who show up.
For those of us who bug the commissioners
and the county judge on an almost daily basis, the fact they
have their ducks in a row is really pretty neat and
certainly makes for more intelligent conversation and much
more accurate news gathering.
But, do these same officials use the
briefings to “hide” things from the public? Probably. And,
are they successful? Sometimes, but probably not nearly as
often as they would like to.
I think maybe it all stems from the
tradition Bev Carter launched so many years ago when the
court members used to break in the midst of a public
commissioner’s court session and all haul into the men’s
room. Bev just threw a hissy fit on a weekly basis and then
decided that with all four commissioners and the county
judge in the potty, that constituted a public meeting and
should be open to the public, of which she was one. Need I
say more? They certainly started taking turns going to the
little guy’s room from that point on. I had forgotten about
that colorful moment in local history until I started
getting e-mails from our readers on the agenda briefings.
Even if the court members are holding
agenda briefings for the very best of reasons and there is
no political hanky-panky thrown in, those in the community
who have developed a deep-seated distrust of government are
going to think that it looks wrong. And, the conspiracy
theorists are going to think it is an effort to avoid public
Sometimes even those who abide by the old
saying above, find it a challenge to live up to.