City Council’s Abuse of Executive Session

The El Paso City Council abuses Executive Session. A lot.

There are reasons to use Executive Session. The Texas Government Code states what they are. But the El Paso City Council goes into Executive Session to limit public input on controversial items.

Like TIRZ 12. The Office of the Attorney General of the State of Texas has an Open Meetings Handbook. The handbook is required reading for City Council. Here’s what the handbook says about the Open Meetings exclusion for discussion about real property:

2. Section 551.072. Deliberations about Real Property

Section 551.072 authorizes a governmental body to deliberate in executive session on certain matters concerning real property. It provides as follows:

A governmental body may conduct a closed meeting to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person.

Section 551.072 permits an executive session only where public discussion of the subject would have a detrimental effect on the governmental body’s negotiating position with respect to a third party. Where a court found that open discussion would not be detrimental to a city’s negotiations, a closed session under this provision was not permitted. It does not allow a governmental body to “cut a deal in private, devoid of public input or debate.” A governmental body’s discussion of nonmonetary attributes of property to be purchased that relate to the property’s value may fall within this exception if deliberating in open session would detrimentally affect subsequent negotiations.

For TIRZ 12, the City was negotiating with the Public Service Board. Members of the Public Service Board are appointed by City Council, and the Mayor is the Chair of the Board. Now, do you think that the Public Service Board was considering selling the land in TIRZ 12 to someone else? Discussion in public would not have had a detrimental effect on the position of the City with a third person.

And how about City Council’s move to Executive Session to discuss the incorporation of the Mexican American Cultural Center into the Main Library?

Even if part of the discussion were justified in Executive Session, most of it was not.

How can City Council announce a major policy decision on a Thursday as a done deal, and vote on it on the following Tuesday, without any public discussion?

Legally, they can’t.

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