The Tarrant County Commissioners Court is reviewing rules of decorum for public participation at its meetings. 

The county started discussing meeting rules after the Texas Legislature passed three updates to the Texas Open Meetings Act in 2019. 

Without a formally adopted set of rules, the presiding officer — in this case the county judge — can control the rules of audience participation as long as any limits are imposed equally. This proposed vote would ensure participation rules are changed by a vote of the commissioners, rather than the county judge unilaterally, county administrator G.K. Maenius said. 

The Commissioners Court is allowed to set rules that limit signs and demonstrations, require speakers to sign in or fill out a form and impose speaker time limits, said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. 

The commissioners still are looking over rules and considering possible changes. Commissioners skipped an agenda item setting up a vote at a May 17 meeting. Instead, the rules were discussed in an executive session. 

The agenda item was a placeholder, Maenius said, to give the commissioners court an opportunity to hear advice from legal counsel about the updated legislation. Conversations between the commissioners court and its attorney qualify for executive session.

What agenda items are exempt from open meetings 

  • Consultations with an attorney 
  • Deliberations about purchasing, selling or leasing property
  • Contract negotiations
  • Discussions about employees
  • Investments 
  • Discussions about audits 
  • Discussions about medical records 

The updated legislation:

  • Guarantees the public’s right to address commissioners during meetings. 
  • Changes requirements for meeting notices in the case of emergencies.
  • Makes meeting in a quorum outside of public meetings a criminal offense. 

The county’s audience participation form includes rules for public meetings. There are no demonstrations allowed at meetings, speakers have to fill out audience participation forms ahead of the meeting and the county judge can impose time limits. 

“I think that we run our court very efficiently. We run it very professionally,” Maenius said. “And the court simply wanted to take a look at some of our proposals.” 

The court may keep the rules as is, Maenius said. 

“I always want to give my court the opportunity to do whatever they want to do,” Maenius said. 

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org