Commentary: Texas officials shouldn't fear transparency

Officials across the state who are prepping for a fight over the Texas Open Meetings Act need better legal advice.

A plausible lawsuit requires actual injury, not vague fears of imaginary speech police.

Nevertheless, City Council members in Pflugerville and elsewhere are talking about another federal suit over whether the act unconstitutionally ties their tongues.

Alpine City Attorney Rod Ponton has actively solicited plaintiffs after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a 4-year-old lawsuit involving former members of the Alpine council.

But the effort, being egged on by the Texas Municipal League, rests on an exaggerated and flawed reading of the open-meetings law.

The argument is that the criminal penalties in the law — a possible fine up to $500 and/or six months in jail for a knowing violation — sends such chills up elected officials’ spines that they fear talking to anyone, public and fellow council members alike.

Texas law directs the attorney general’s office to train officials in the state Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act. Presumably, the attorney general’s staff conveys that the goal is accountability, not restraint of speech.

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