I heard your voice mail that the Complaint Screening Committee and the Investigative Committee on the Willingham/Willis Case held meetings yesterday in Dallas. When and where were they held? I didn't see any meeting notice posted on the website. I only knew about it because I had read in the Houston Chronicle that it was going to be held next Thursday. Did the Commission provide a public notice before the meetings were held? How can the public be aware of when these meetings are going to be held in the future? Are there minutes available of the meetings yesterday?Tomlin replied with a single sentence: "The meetings were not public meetings."
They could be public, of course, at the discretion of the commission and the chair. But the new rules Chairman John Bradley rammed through at the commission's last meeting allow him to opt to have closed sessions.
Having watched that meeting online, I seriously doubt the majority of commissioners understood that this would be the result or intended to close their deliberations. This is simply the chairman exercising his discretion in the convenient absence of any rule to the contrary. This is what happens when rules aren't publicly posted or even shared with commissioners before the day they're required to vote on them. One hopes the commission majority will override their chairman to revisit and amend those rules, making committee hearings public and publishing their agendas just like regular commission meetings.
The Forensic Science Commission never conducted its business in secret before. What do they have to hide?
Cobb emailed me the above exchange and asked, "Do you think the Texas Forensic Science Commission is justified in holding non-public meetings of the three person committees it has set up?" I replied, "Legally, yes. However clearly discussing more things in private was a primary purpose of the new rules."
Doublechecking on the legality, according to the AG's Open Meetings handbook (p. 19 of the pdf), "Generally, meetings of less than a quorum of a governmental body are not subject to the Act," except "when a governmental body appoints a committee that includes less than a quorum of the parent body and grants it authority to supervise or control public business or public policy, the committee may itself be a 'governmental body' subject to the Act."
But who cares? It may be legal but that don't make it right.
MORE: See the Houston Chronicle's Rick Casey's column predicting further delays in the Willingham investigation published earlier this week.
- Forensic commission should 'reconsider' rules, pull Willingham case out of stacked committee
- Hectoring approach works for John Bradley at Forensic Science Commission, for now
- Forensic Science Commission meets today, but does it have rulemaking authority?
- Saying 'no' to John Bradley
- Bradley violated Open Meetings Act at forensic hearing