Did Port Arthur Housing Authority violate Texas Open Meetings Act?

Published 9:08 am Monday, September 24, 2018

That is the question. Much conversation has been floating around Port Arthur about the Port Arthur Housing Authority trying to attain funds to add quite a few more affordable housing locations to Port Arthur.

As we discussed two weeks ago, Port Arthur ranks as much as five times higher than the state average, when it comes to affordable housing. So it does have its fair share already.

However, that didn’t stop PAHA Executive Director Seledonio “Cele” Quesada from trying to push for more.

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Last Thursday, the PAHA board members conducted a “special meeting” just four days before their regularly schedule monthly meeting. The goal was to vote on whether or not the PAHA should proceed with filing for what may be $20 million in available funds before Sept. 21. Due to community pressure, the board voted to not move forward at this time.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Texas Open Meeting Act requires governing body must give the public notice of the date, time, place and subject of the public, special or executive meeting taking place. The notice must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times at least 72 hours before the meeting. An executive session must convene as a part of the open meeting.

Throughout Thursday morning, the day of the meeting, the notice was not made available on the PAHA website. I looked for it. At about 10:15 I called the front office of the PAHA to confirm whether there was indeed going to be a special meeting that day at 5 p.m. It was told there would be one.

When I questioned why I couldn’t find the notice online, the individual I was talking to pulled up the page and could not find it either. During that same conversation, it was explained to me that normally when a meeting is scheduled, there is a posting of the agenda in the front office. The young lady I spoke with could not find such a notice.

About two hours later, when our reporter Mary Meaux went to the website, guess what was there? You got it: the agenda posting for the special meeting. Just five hours before the special meeting was to take place and 67 hours later than law requires. How many residents are going to be able to see that? And was that the point?

Laws such as the Texas Open Meetings Act are in place for a reason. It creates transparency by a governing body, and allows citizens enough time to find out what’s going on with their government and their tax dollars. It allows citizens the time and information to know whether the meeting topic is important to them or will affect them.

For a governing body to not comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act should cause concern for citizens. I’m not going to go so far as to make an accusation of intent to not inform, but the other option would be highly unorganized people running the PAHA operation.

Neither of which should be allowed.

Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.