Piece of Mind: City’s ‘Abundance of Caution’ Leads to More Transparency

Jan 14, 2020

You want transparency in local government? You want to see how a certain city in North Texas handles any potential questions about whether its elected governing body is meeting in "secret," or conducting public business "illegally"?

Farmersville, a Collin County community of roughly 3,500 residents, exercises what City Attorney Alan Lathrom describes as an "abundance of caution" in alerting residents of a "potential quorum" of elected City Council members.

The city posts a "notice of potential quorum" in advance of any event that might draw more than a majority of City Council members into the same room. That includes, as it did in November and December, an announcement of planned Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.

The city's website contained under its "Council Meetings" tab announcements of those events. The city is not required under state law to post such events, Lathrom. "We just do it out of an abundance of caution," he said, citing the possibility that inquiring minds might want to know if council members were discussing public business in a setting other than a called public meeting.

Lathrom said the Texas Open Meetings Act makes specific exemptions for social events. Council members are allowed to gather at holiday parties, for example, without it being posted in advance by City Hall, he said.

Lathrom said the city simply is trying to be as transparent as possible by posting these notices of potential quorum.

I stumbled upon the Christmas party notice recently while perusing the Farmersville website in search of some contact information. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised at my discovery. I told Lathrom of my surprise in a phone conversation.

He doesn't ascribe much in the way of a need to cover the city's backside. Lathrom simply employs this strategy because, well, it's the right thing to do.

I have covered many local government bodies over many years as a print journalist. This is the first example I've ever seen of a governing entity taking such a proactive posture toward transparency.

We hear occasional gripes from residents that government seeks to do too much of the public's business improperly or even illegally. Do notices such as this generate a lot of public interest? That's not likely. At least Farmersville City Hall can declare that it warned residents of a "potential quorum" of City Council members.

I consider that a fairly see-through approach to local government.

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.