Montgomery County commissioner proposes digital message board allowed under Open Meetings Act

By Catherine Dominguez
Houston Chronicle
Originally published Oct. 24, 2016

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack is proposing a digital public message board that would allow the commissioners to communicate publicly outside a called meeting.

While County Judge Craig Doyal said he sees some benefits, he said he isn’t sure all the commissioners would use a digital message board.

The court was scheduled to discuss the item at Tuesday’s meeting.

For Noack, it would help provide more transparency of county business. A quorum of commissioners discussing county business outside a publicly called meeting is prohibited by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

In fact, Noack visited with the County Attorney’s Office last year about the idea.

“What it does is it allows only members of the commissioners court to publicly make statements on issues in an online forum where the community can see what they are posting,” Noack said. “It gives us the opportunity to talk about issues and not have to be in court.

“I am going to ask the County Attorney’s Office to begin to move forward with the creation of that.”

Government Code 551.006 allows for a written electronic communication database that is viewable and searchable by the public. Doyal said the message board might be useful in emergency situations; but he added when there is such a situation, the court is allowed to call emergency meetings without the 72-hour requirement to publicly post an agenda and notice of a quorum.

“It’s probably not a bad idea, I just don’t know how much it would get used by our court,” said Doyal, adding he had asked the County Attorney’s Office to review the legality of the proposal.

“I want to make sure in today’s climate there isn’t any questions or concerns,” Doyal said of having such a message board.

The idea of the message board for more transparency comes four months after Doyal, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jim Clark were indicted on a charge of conspiring to circumvent the Texas Open Meetings Act regarding the November 2015 road bond referendum. In addition to Doyal, Riley and Clark, political consultant Marc Davenport was indicted on the same charge.

The trial date for all four men is set for Nov. 7.