Lawsuit Filed Against Amarillo City Council Alleging Open Meetings Violations
AMARILLO, Texas – A lawsuit against the City of Amarillo claims city council members and the mayor violated the Texas Open Meetings Act multiple times.
Claudette Smith and Michael Fisher filed a complaint with the Potter County District Clerk claiming that city council members Place Two Freda Powell, Place Three Eddy Sauer, and Place Four Howard Smith attended a public forum on Wednesday, May 24th, 2017, put on by the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, they say that would represent a quorum, thereby violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
We did look back, and while there were other agendas sent out for that week, there was no agenda sent out by the City Secretary for the AEDC that week.
The lawsuit also claims that council members Sauer, Powell, and Place One Elaine Hays carried on a conversation on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, after the public portion of the meeting adjourned, discussing city business, thereby violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, again.
The suit also claims that on another occasion, Mayor Nelson asked members of the public to not take pictures or record the city’s regularly scheduled meeting on March 27 of this year.
The plaintiffs claim they were required to turn off their video cameras and were prohibited from taking photos or video.
The city records all of the city council’s public meetings and they are available on their website. We looked back, and believe this is the interaction to which the suit refers.
Mayor Nelson addresses using recording devices at around 1:22:00 into the recording.
The lawsuit also claims on March 6, city council members were discussing an ordinance in the regularly scheduled meeting which establishes monthly and yearly limits on the amount of time city personnel are required to spend producing public information, and how much the city charges for open records requests.
According to the lawsuit, Fisher raised his hand to speak and to show council members evidence of an estimate received from the City Attorney’s Office but was asked to not comment on the matter because it was a closed session, by Mayor Nelson.
Here is the link to what we believe to be that exchange, at around timestamp 4:44:15.
The lawsuit claims the city violated the Open Meetings Act there because they voted on an item, during a time they claim was a closed meeting and failed to identify it as a closed session.
The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction and for their attorney’s fees to be paid.
We did contact the City of Amarillo, they say they do not comment on current lawsuits.
We checked on the rules of decorum for the city council meetings and along with other rules of attending the city council meetings, audible use of phones, pagers, radios, computers or other electronic equipment is not allowed.
Mayor Nelson was also sent a letter which we have obtained a copy of on April 11, 2018, from State Representative Tony Tinderholdt (R-TX 94), regarding how he feels the rules of decorum are an abuse of power.