A. Chapter 551, Texas Gov't Code, The Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), requires that all governmental bodies' meetings be open to the public, except for executive sessions, as specified by the statute.
1. TOMA accomplishes this goal in part, by requiring that, absent an emergency, the agenda for such meetings be posted 72 hours in advance of the meeting at certain locations. Tex. Gov’t Code §551.002, et. seq.
2. TOMA does not require that governmental bodies have “public comment” or a right to speak at meetings. (The Board should distinguish “public comment” in this regard, from “public hearing” where a separate state or federal statute requires the public be allowed to comment or speak about a particular matter). See, Eudaly v. City of Colleyville, 642 S.W. 2d 75, 77 (Tex. App.-Ft. Worth 1982, writ ref’d n.r.e.).
3. While TOMA doesn’t require “public comment,” governmental bodies are allowed to have public comment as part of their public meetings, subject to reasonable rules they have adopted. Tex. Att’y. Gen. Op. No. h-188 (1973); Tex. Att’y. Gen. LO 96-111.
B. Meetings under TOMA are defined as any "deliberation" or "verbal exchange" which is "between a quorum of members of a governmental body and any other person” discussing Public business or policy or taking formal action. Texas Gov't. Code §551.001(4)(A).
1. TOMA doesn’t define “verbal.” However, its meaning in everyday English is “of, relating to, or consisting of words. Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary 1309 (1984). See also Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JM-1127 (1989) citing Webster’s 3d New International Dictionary 2542 (1961)
2. Note that the term “verbal” does not connote only spoken words, but also may refer to written words, such as handouts, which speakers at public comment sometimes provide to the Board of Directors.
C. The Texas Attorney General has found that “public comment” is sufficient notice under to advise the public that members of the general public may address the governmental body. Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0169 (2000).
1. This approval assumes, however, that there is no deliberation or verbal exchange by the governing body. Tex. Gov’t. Code §551.042; Tex. Att’y. Gen. Op. No. JC-0169 (2000) at 4.
2. Tex. Gov’t. Code §551.042 limits governmental body’s responses to such “unposted” deliberations during public comment to:
(1) a statement of specific factual information given in response to an inquiry; or
(2) a recitation of existing policy in response to the inquiry.
(3) any deliberation of or decision about the subject of the inquiry shall be limited
to a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a subsequent meeting.
In summary, “public comment” provides sufficient notice under the Open Meetings Act of the subject matter for members of the public to present their concerns to their elected officials during a meeting, so long as the Board does not comment or deliberate except as authorized by §551.042.