A sign directing people to the Llano County Library,102 E. Haynie St. in Llano, just past the Roy B. Inks Bridge on Texas 71. During a March 3 meeting, members of the Llano County Library Advisory Board voted to close its meetings to the public after listening to a discussion on the Texas Open Meetings Act given by a member of the county’s legal department. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley
The Llano County Library Advisory Board voted to hold future meetings in private during its Thursday, March 3, meeting. The decision followed a presentation from Matthew Rienstra, assistant attorney to the county, on the Texas Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act.
First adopted by the state in 1967, the Texas Open Meetings Act establishes rules of conduct for governmental bodies to ensure a certain level of transparency while also allowing members of the public an opportunity to hold elected officials and appointees accountable. The act requires these entities host meetings publicly as well as post meeting agendas in a place accessible to the public beforehand.
Types of groups, boards, and committees falling under the term “governmental body” are outlined in Section 552.003 of the act and include county commissioners courts, school boards, and city councils.
Because the Library Advisory Board does not meet criteria listed in the act and all recommendations made must be approved by the Llano County Commissioners Court in order to be enacted, public meetings are not required, Rienstra explained.
“(The act) does not apply to you,” he told the board. “You’re not passing rules or exercising any authority.”
The March 3 meeting is not the only time the board has discussed whether it should hold its meetings publicly. After the topic was brought up during a Jan. 24 meeting, board Vice-Chair Bonnie Wallace informed the group that, while the board was not subject to the Open Meetings Act, commissioners had encouraged meetings be held publicly “so that we can have transparency.”
However, Rienstra made it clear that board members could decide how they wanted to conduct meetings amongst themselves.
“If you’re not a governmental body, you do not have to post meetings (and) you do not have to have open meetings,” he explained. “If several of you want to walk around your neighborhood and say, ‘Hey, I’m on a special advisory board, what do you think?’ You can do that. If you want to have some kind of meeting where the public comes in and fires off their questions, you can do it. How you do it? That’s your business.”
Near the end of the meeting, board member Rhonda Schneider made a motion to make future meetings private. The board approved it unanimously.
In addition to discussing open meetings, Rienstra gave board members a briefing on the Public Information Act. According to the Texas Attorney General’s website, the act provides legal guidelines “for the disclosure and protection of public information.”
Through the act, members of the public can request access to information such as legal documents and emails shared between government employees. However, it does not apply to communication between private citizens such as advisory board members.
“You are not subject to it for the same reason (as the Open Meetings Act),” Rienstra said during the meeting. “You are not a governmental body.”
An exception, however, applies when communication includes a county employee, he continued.
“We’re not trying to scare you off,” Rienstra said. “We’re trying to let you know that you do not have any obligation to send any of your information to us, but once you do, it becomes open records.”
During the meeting, it was asked whether notes taken by Amber Milum, the director of the county’s library system, would be considered public record.
Milum is the only library staff member to attend every one of the board’s meetings in order to provide insight on library policies and day-to-day work.
“If (Milum) is taking notes of these meetings, that could become a public information document, yes,” Rienstra confirmed.
“Take her pen,” Wallace quipped.
The Llano County Library Advisory Board will hold its next meeting at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 24, at the Justice of the Peace Annex Meeting Hall, 8347 RR 1431 in Buchanan Dam. No one from the public will be allowed to attend.