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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

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 scrutiny.

Sometimes even those who abide by the old saying above, find it a challenge to live up to.

 

Contact skinnerc1@tconline.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  October 17, 2007