Just ask Craig Doyal, a county commissioner who is alleged to have engaged in discussions with other commissioners regarding a road bond without a quorum and was indicted for knowingly conspiring to circumvent the provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA).
TOMA requires meetings of governmental bodies to be open to the public. It is a criminal offense under TOMA for a member or group of members of a governmental body to knowingly conspire to circumvent the Act by meeting in numbers less than a quorum “for the purpose of secret deliberations.”
TOMA defines a deliberation as “a verbal exchange during a meeting between a quorum of a governmental body, or between a quorum of a governmental body and another person, concerning an issue within the jurisdiction of the governmental body or any public business.”
Mr. Doyal challenged the indictment, arguing that the criminal provisions in TOMA violated his First Amendment rights. The trial court agreed and dismissed the indictment.
On appeal, however, the court of appeals reversed. According to the appellate court, the TOMA provision was directed at conduct and not speech. It was not the content of the deliberations that resulted in the indictment, it was the fact that the commissioner allegedly conspired to engage in secret deliberations.
The TOMA provision at issue was also not unconstitutionally vague. According to the court, it describes the criminal offense with sufficient specificity that ordinary people can understand the conduct that is prohibited.
The case is State v. Doyal, 541 S.W.3d 395 (Tex. App. 2018). This case is still on appeal and will be an interesting one to watch.
DAWG BONE: SECRET DELIBERATIONS ARE BAD.
Tomorrow: What’s up with the Department of Education?