The backlash resulting from Odessa City Council’s recent violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act just reached a new level – spurring on a lawsuit filed by one of the city’s local news outlets, The Odessa American.
The violation occurred when Odessa City Council neglected to properly notify the public of a closed meeting held on May 9. Attention was further drawn to the violation when the council announced that, during the closed meeting, council members decided to remove Odessa Development Corporation Chairman Jimmy Breaux.
To date, city council members refuse to provide details about the closed meeting, including the reasoning behind Breaux’s removal.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday by The Odessa American seeks a court order that would prevent City Council from violating the Texas Open Meetings Act moving forward, and necessitate written minutes or audio recordings for all future closed meetings. The suit also requests the disclosure of details and minutes from past council meetings that were illegally conducted.
In a state publication regarding the Texas Open Meetings Act, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton states that providing “public access to the governmental decision-making process creates necessary trust and understanding in officials and in the system,” and that public accountability “is imperative in a free society.”
This year, with the city council spending roughly the same amount of time meeting behind closed doors as they have in open meetings, it seems the May 9 incident was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. The lawsuit makes clear that transparency and trust is not something the Odessa community takes lightly – and officials would be wise to take notice.