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Attorney says LCRA Board may have violated state open-meetings law

Friday, November 20, 2009 by Charles Boisseau

An Austin attorney who specializes in freedom of the press issues said Thursday that the Lower Colorado River Authority may have violated state law when its board discussed in executive session changing a staff proposal for how the river authority addresses the drought.

 

On Wednesday, several board members told an In Fact Daily reporter that they discussed a new path for approving water contracts during Tuesday’s executive session. None of them would say who suggested the change that resulted in the board’s conclusion that they should take over decisions related to new water contracts rather than banning new water contracts altogether.

 

“There is no basis for that being in executive session,” said R. James George after hearing an outline of how the LCRA board deliberated in executive session on Tuesday before voting on Wednesday on a package of measures to manage the drought.

 

“It’s a policy question how much the sale of water should be, and who should make that decision. It’s not a legal question – it’s a policy problem” and thus should be discussed in open session, said George, who over the years has represented everyone from CBS News anchor Katie Couric and The Wall Street Journal to the late rapper Tupac Shakur. The Texas Open Meetings Act requires – with a few exceptions – that every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body be open to the public.

 

LCRA spokesman Robert Cullick said LCRA’s Board did not violate the open meetings act. Board members “went into executive session under Texas law to receive the advice of counsel relating to legal issues, regulatory processes and potential risks related to the board’s possible response to the drought, including a possible suspension of firm water sales,” Cullick said in an e-mail. “Based on legal counsel and the discussion of the board with the lawyers, the original recommendation was modified by staff and brought to the board for a decision on Wednesday in open session.”

 

Moreover Cullick said George “represents the City of San Antonio, which wants a judge to order LCRA to pay San Antonio $1.23 billion. It is no surprise that he would continue to disparage the character of LCRA’s Board of Directors.”

 

In August, the San Antonio Water System filed suit against LCRA and asked for the eye-popping damage award. SAWS disputes LCRA’s claim that a planned water-sharing partnership between the big water suppliers could not go forward because there was not enough water to go around. After LCRA’s board meeting on Wednesday afternoon, LCRA General Manager Tom Mason and other LCRA staff members met with lawyers to discuss the ongoing legal case.

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