In a Travis County court room on Friday, an attorney for the Texas Ethics Commission confirmed that commissioners met in secret meetings not posted in accordance with the state’s open meetings law. The admission came as the commission’s chairman and vice-chairman sought to avoid testifying in a hearing scheduled for Monday.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of conservative watchdog group Empower Texans, has brought suit against the Texas Ethics Commission for violating the state’s Open Meetings Act in issuing their order against him following a June formal hearing. TEC chairman Jim Clancy adjourned that meeting without deliberating or issuing a ruling. No further publicly announced meetings have been held since then. However, they issued a “unanimous” ruling in late July.
An attorney for the TEC told the Travis County district court that commissioners did indeed meet in secret, undisclosed meetings. The admission came in an effort to keep Clancy and his vice-chairman, Paul Hobby, from testifying at a hearing on Monday.
The judge found that with the commission’s admission, the court on Monday will have the facts necessary to determine if the state’s open meetings act was violated. He also encouraged both Sullivan and the TEC to be prepared to take Monday’s ruling to the state’s Third Court of Appeals and Supreme Court in order to get a final ruling on an important legal precedent.
“Clancy and Hobby are now claiming at the TEC is exempt from the requirements of state’s open meetings act, when they choose to be,” said Tony McDonald, the general counsel for Empower Texans. “Given that Clancy told the House State Affairs Committee that he thinks of his agency as the ‘transparency commission,’ this newly-crafted ability to meet without public notice is ironic, if not laughable. The consequences of this position are huge; under their theory, the TEC can meet and issue rulings without any public notice. How many orders have been issued from the TEC’s unposted, private meetings?”
McDonald noted that Sullivan’s suit has been brought not to invalidate the order but expose the TEC’s efforts to cloak their actions in secrecy,
“As their July ruling is appealed, we are developing a record that ensures the commissioners and staff at the TEC cannot hide from it in the future,” said McDonald. “The admission today confirms everything we have alleged. They cannot hide from their behavior or walk back this action.”
A hearing on the violations of the Open Meetings Act is scheduled in Travis County on Monday, August 18.