Former Paris mayor accuses city officials of violating Open Meetings Act

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PARIS, TX -- One Paris city council member is questioning the legality of a phone conversation the current mayor and three others had with a forensic investigator regarding the audit of the Paris Economic Development Corporation.

After an executive council session Monday night, Mayor Matt Frierson informed residents of a phone call between himself, Mayor Pro Tem Richard Grossnickle, city manager John Godwin, city attorney Kent McIlyar and Danny Defenbaugh, the lead investigator in the forensic audit of the PEDC.

"In no way shape or form was any of the conversation about shutting down an investigation or stopping any work undertaken by Defenbaugh and Associates,” Frierson said. “The conversation centered around the areas that were left unresolved by the presentation to the city council."

After the phone call, last Monday's meeting between Defenbaugh and the PEDC board was cancelled.

"No one said 'don't go to the PEDC meeting,' that's as plain and simple as I can make it,” said Frierson.

Former mayor Dr. AJ Hashmi says the phone call was illegal according to the open meetings act.

"I'm a little disappointed in you(Frierson), but I am more disappointed with the city attorney,” Hashmi said. “He should of given you better advise to not have a walking quorum and the two acts I have mentioned."

"On the telephone conversation that you had, I want to advise you that Texas Open Meetings Act 551.0001 Section D and Section E, they were both violated,” said Hashmi.

City Attorney Kent McIlyar disagreed.

"That is a complete misinterpretation of the law and also to allege that it is a walking quorum, that is a big accusation to make."

Section D. Informal or Social Meetings, in the Texas Open Meetings Handbook states:

“When a quorum of the members of a governmental body assembles in an informal setting, such as a social occasion, it will be subject to the requirements of the Act if the members engage in a verbal exchange about public business or policy. “

In the handbook it references Esperanza Peace and Justice Center v. City of San Antonio, where the mayor and several other city council members met in the city manager’s office the night before a council meeting regarding the city budget. A decision was made that night and ratified at the public meeting the next day.

The federal court stated that violated the spirit of the act and rendered a result not intended by legislature.

Hashmi stated the conversation needed to be made available to the public, or it's illegal.

"The opportunity needs to be given to the public to either hear the conversation, before, after or during," Hashmi said.

After not being able to respond to McIlyar's remarks, Hashmi stated that he would report him.

"If it means that, I will complete a report to the Texas Attorney General's Office with a complaint about the city attorney," said Hashmi.

"I'm not going to dispute with the city attorney other than the fact that I will say that he needs to re-read the law,” Hashmi said. “What I was quoting was precisely what is written in the Texas Open Meetings Book."

In a conversation today, Hashmi did not confirm if he still plans on reporting the city attorney to the Texas attorney general.