A Pasadena City Council member has asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office to investigate allegations that the city’s economic development corporation’s board had conducted secret meetings.
In a written complaint, Councilman Sammy Casados referred to claims that the Pasadena Second Century Corp. board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by meeting twice with a Pasadena-based contractor on Nov. 28 without giving public notice.
Another council member, Ornaldo Ybarra, said that given the possibility of an investigation and the nature of the allegations, he is calling for the Second Century board to be replaced with new members.
In his formal complaint to Ryan’s office, Casados wrote: “According to (Second Century) chairman Roy Mease, the PSCC board of directors held two separate meetings on the same day. In an attempt to avoid having a quorum (or a majority), half of the members were instructed to attend an early meeting and the other half were instructed to attend a second meeting later that same day.
“Neither the City Council nor any members of the public were made aware of the meetings,” he wrote.
Casados first brought allegations of an illegal meeting to a Feb. 7 council meeting during discussion related to an emergency measure in which the council approved a $1 million loan to keep Second Century from being dissolved.
After that Feb. 7 meeting, Mease said that engineers from Civil Concepts had made a presentation to board members at meetings held Nov. 28 at the convention center.
To avoid violating state open meetings laws, Mease said he had scheduled two meetings for half of the board members to attend each.
But Second Century board member Emilio Carmona, also speaking after the Feb. 7 meeting, said that some EDC board members from the first gathering on Nov. 28 had stayed for the second.
Mease has since declined to comment about the allegations.
Douglas Ray of Ryan’s office said claims of such potential violations are often brought to his office to determine if an investigation is warranted.
“The Harris County Attorney’s office is always very concerned when they receive information that there have been violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” he said.
Ybarra said he thinks that replacement of Second Century board members is warranted.
“This is a significant violation and these allegations should be taken very seriously,” Ybarra said.
Matthew Festa, an attorney and professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, condemned any strategy to split a board into separate meetings as an obvious attempt to circumvent open meetings laws.
“If they accidently have too many people attend the second meeting, well that’s a clear violation. But even if they didn’t, it could be an improper attempt to skirt the public’s right to know about meetings with government business,” he said.
Bill Aleshire, former Travis County judge and a member of The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said of members on governmental boards:
“It is their responsibility to also know what the law is, to not be in the room or in a situation that could involve an illegal meeting.
“Every entity governed by the Texas Open Meetings Act recognizes that the public has a right to know what they’re doing and that we don’t allow secret government,” Aleshire said.