The Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) guarantees the state’s citizens fair, democratic, and open government where their voices are heard, banning local municipalities from hiding public business from the people, which is exactly what one north Texas couple alleges their city officials did in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Collin County District Court.
The plaintiffs, longtime Plano residents Greg and Laura Hatch, assert in a Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief that, in 2014, their city officials breached TOMA, ignoring the act when convening behind closed doors to push through an Equal Rights Policy. Then, after privately agreeing to pass the ordinance, city leaders rolled it out to Plano residents, who pushed back against it for a variety of reasons.
“This is even more concerning than what is in the ordinance itself because the city refused to play by the rules,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Cleve Doty, who spoke to Breitbart Texas exclusively. “Plano’s politicians wanted to hide from the citizens what they were doing and, based on their actions, didn’t want citizen input.”
Breitbart Texas reported on Plano’s city council passing the Equal Rights ordinance which purportedly prohibited “discrimination in places of public accommodation, employment practices, housing transactions, and city contracting practices,” intended to ensure inclusiveness “to individuals regardless of U.S. military/veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identity…” It also swapped out words like “handicapped” for more politically correct ones like “disability.”
The passed ordinance imposed criminal fines on individuals and businesses based upon their beliefs about sexuality and a host of issues. Noted Doty, “It put many businesses under the thumb of City Hall about things as personal and private as bathrooms, among other things.”
While many community members disagreed with the ordinance, even more were upset they never knew about it. In fact, one of the groups the Equal Rights Policy sought to protect, transgender Planoites, complained city officials excluded them from discussions, as well.
Said Doty, “This is a disservice to citizens no matter which side of the issue they’re on: people from both sides of the political debate were excluded from the conversation, and the City created an ordinance that will be void. Nobody wins when the City breaks the law.”
The lawsuit purports that after violating the open meetings act, city leaders confirmed in writing they violated it. Plano City Manager Bruce Glasscock “repeatedly confirmed to third parties that Council had already deliberated and decided upon the matter and he was aware where every single council member stood on the Ordinance. He discouraged lobbyists who supported his position from even contacting their representatives, since the matter was already decided per the City’s secret, prearranged plan.”
The petition states city documents show Plano officials never wanted citizen input and avoided it for fear of criticism.
“Texas requires local governments to operate with transparency,” stated Doty.
The Texas Supreme Court held “our citizens are entitled to more than a result. They are entitled not only to know what government decides but to observe how and why every decision is reached.” The state’s highest court noted the open meetings statute commands “openness at every stage of deliberations.”
“The City chose, instead, to announce the ordinance to the public only after deciding to pass it. The City circumvented citizen input and should be held accountable,” said Doty, who pointed out the city spent possibly tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, to thwart Plano residents from ever learning what they did.
“We are disappointed in our city officials. We know as a kind neighborhood city and we believe Plano can do better,” said the Hatches in a prepared statement. They believe every Plano citizen, “regardless of faith or belief, deserve the right to observe or participate in his or her government.”
Last week, the TOMA got trampled on in Montgomery County when visiting District Court Judge Randy Clapp slapped down a portion of the open meetings act as unconstitutional, calling a section vague, overbroad, and violating free speech. He dismissed charges against county Judge Craig Doyal and Charlie Riley, a precinct commissioner. In 2016, a grand jury indicted both men for conducting secret meetings over a $280 million road bond proposal, allegedly ignoring the open meetings law. The special prosecutor plans to appeal, according to the Montgomery County Courier. Conceivably, the case could wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
About five years ago, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a lower court ruling that supported TOMA, arguing the act promoted good government.
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