Texas Government Code Section 551.143 prohibits the so-called “walking quorum,” when members engage in communications separately that, when taken together, would constitute a quorum.
The Texas Attorney General’s Open Meetings Act Handbook says, “Amended section 551.143 now prohibits discussion about an item of public business among a quorum of a governmental body through a series of communications.” The new amendments were adopted in 2019.
A quorum for the CISD school board is four members.
The text messages in question were acquired through an open records request and show Moore communicating with board members Sheri Mills and Danny Gilpin in one set of messages and with Todd Carlton and Dave Almand in another set of messages.
Taken together that totals five members of the school board. The request did not reveal any communications with board members Matt Bryant or Eric Lannen.
In the messages, Moore begins by discussing with Gilpin and Mills options for voting on the CCAP plan at the August 3 meeting.
“I could be totally wrong but I see tonight as CCAP being presented, and our options are either adopt (approve), deny (vote against) or accept with instructions to administration to schedule workshops, town halls, etc.” Gilpin wrote to Moore and Mills.
Moore later sent Gilpin and Mills a text message with a screenshot of comments she planned to make at the August 3 CISD Board meeting to clarify what was meant by approving the CCAP.
“…I want to clarify some confusion before we get started. The District Diversity Council is presenting their plan and recommendations to the Board as an Advisory Committee to the Board…By accepting the plan, the plan moves out of the DDC and is delegated to the Administration to review, consider and implement…It does not mean the full plan as presented is approved, and it does not mean that funding to implement the plan is approved,” Moore’s screenshot said in part.
She asked Gilpin and Mills for their thoughts on her planned remarks. They both replied.
“Plus I would love you to say (or any of us during the meeting) that the money is not being approved and that there is still strategic planning and capital needs,” Mills replied.
“Well of course we are ‘accepting’ the plan but to say that that moves it from DDC to Admin implies that we approve the plan…That’s not what happens by just accepting the presentation,” Gilpin replied.
In another set of messages to two other board members, Dave Almand and Todd Carlton, Moore again sent the screenshot of her clarifying remarks and asked for their thoughts. Both members replied.
“I think clearing up what we are being asked to do is advisable. Not sure how many will hear it but worth the effort,” Carlton wrote while Almand replied, “Good!”
The CCAP was a matter to be discussed by the board at the August 3 meeting, and therefore appears to be “an issue within the jurisdiction of the governmental body” that according to the Open Meetings Act should not be discussed by a majority of the board outside of a public meeting.
“It is concerning. Why would the school board president do that?” Joe Larsen, a First Amendment attorney in Houston and a member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas told The Texan.
He believes the messages are “a series of communications that adds up to a quorum” that the law is intended to address.
Moore believes she complied with the Texas Open Meetings Act in her communications with the school board members before the August 3 meeting.
In response to The Texan’s inquiry, Moore said, “I did text my opening statement before public comments to several Trustees because there was significant public confusion on the CCAP agenda item, and I thought adding some additional clarity before the 100+ comments was advisable. My intent was to get their feedback and help me wordsmith the statement if needed.”
The Attorney General’s Handbook also adds that the act requires that a “member must know at the time he or she engaged in the communication that the series of communications involved or would involve a quorum and would constitute a deliberation once a quorum of members engaged in the series of communications.”
A violation of this section of the Open Meetings Act is a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of between $100 and $500, confinement in the county jail of between one and six months, or both.
Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson said that her office investigates allegations of violations of the Open Meetings Act.
“Our acceptance of a referral means we will investigate the allegations; it does not mean that we will find a violation,” Wilson explained to The Texan.
When asked why people should care about possible violations of the Open Meetings Act, Larsen pointed out that in our representative system of government, it is important for deliberations about matters to be made in public so the people “can see how the decisions are being made and who makes what arguments.”
“It is meant to maintain people’s faith in government,” he added.
The plan has raised concerns among citizens in the district because of such elements as its diversity and inclusion training for students as part of the graduation process and a system to track microaggressions, which the document defines as, “everyday verbal or nonverbal, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized or underrepresented group membership.”
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.