Meadowlakes citizen speech rules alarm experts



By Lew K. Cohn
Managing Editor

Meadowlakes officials unveiled a “citizen comment” form that Freedom of Information (FOI) experts say violates the intent of the Texas Open Meetings Act and serves as an “intimidation tactic” to keep the public from criticizing their government leaders.

Officials placed the form on a table in the back of city council chambers at Tuesday's regular City Council meeting.

According to FOI officials, the city may be forced to alter or discard the form, titled “Citizen Comments Request to Speak at a Council Meeting,” in its entirety due to a new law, HB 2840, which takes effect in September. The new policy outlines requirements directed at government officials for citizens' comments at meetings.

Meadowlakes Mayor Mary Ann Raesener said the new form “was drafted by our legal counsel in compliance with HB 2840.”

Our intention was to advise the public on the procedure for making comments during Council meetings,” said Raesener.

The Meadowlakes form appears to pre-screen individuals who wish to talk about personnel, litigation, security issues, contract negotiation and real estate transactions and directs them to request the item be placed on the next council meeting agenda without having the right to comment on those issues.

If your concern is checked above, be aware that you may not mention in an open meeting any identifier of the person(s) you wish to complain about or the specific issue that concerns you,” the form states.

Any public comment could expose you to possible criminal charges (Class B Misdemeanor, including fine, jail time, or both) as well as civil law litigation with possible penalties, including exemplary damages. These charges, civil or criminal, could include public trial at the county level in Burnet.”

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT) and one of the state's top FOI experts, called the form “problematic on several fronts” and decried an attempt at weaponization of Texas Government Code Section 551, better known as the Texas Open Meetings Act.

It does not accurately portray the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Shannon said. “Furthermore, it seems to be an intimidation tactic aimed at members of the public. Citizens speaking in a public forum of a meeting cannot be pre-screened or censored by the governmental body, although members of the public must follow general rules such as adhering to time limits.” . . .

Find the rest of this story in the Friday, June 21 issue of The Highlander, the newspaper of record for the Highland Lakes. To offer a comment or news tip, email To subscribe, call 830-693-4367.

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