Appointment of police chief invalidated for meetings violation
TEXAS–In mid-April, the appointment of Laredo police chief J.L. Martinez was declared void by the state Court of Appeals in San Antonio because the public was not given proper notice of the meeting at which he was hired. However, the court also held that any official actions Martinez took while serving as chief still stand despite the invalidity of his appointment.
Martinez was appointed police chief by the Laredo City Council in May 1992. In June 1993, Martinez suspended police officer Inez Rivera without pay based on five counts of official misconduct. Rivera appealed his suspension through an internal hearing. The hearing examiner upheld the suspension. Rivera then filed suit with the trial court in Laredo, challenging Martinez’s appointment. Rivera claimed that because Martinez had been hired at a meeting for which proper public notice had not been given, his appointment was void, and that therefore his suspension of Rivera was also void.
The trial court ruled against Rivera and granted summary judgment in favor of the city in November 1995.
In reversing the trial court’s decision, the court of appeals noted that the open meetings law requires that the public be given notice at least 72 hours prior to a meeting of a government body.
The notice must contain information regarding the subject matter that will be discussed at the meeting. A government body is permitted to hold a closed executive session under certain circumstances, but only if the body first convenes in an open meeting for which proper notice was given. The court held that the council did not follow these rules when it met to appoint Martinez as police chief.
On May 1, 1992, the council posted public notice that it intended to meet on May 4 and would go into executive session to discuss the selection of a new police chief. The council met on May 4 as planned but did not complete its discussions. The council moved to recess until May 6 but did not post any notice of a meeting for that date. It reconvened in executive session on May 6, and, following the executive session, the city manager nominated Martinez in open session and the council voted for his appointment.
The court held that the council violated the open meetings law when it met in executive session on May 6 without posting proper notice, concluding that Martinez’s appointment must be set aside and declared null and void. However, the court noted that the law validates the acts of an official exercising his duties even though “there was a want of power” in the appointing body or some other defect unknown to the public. Accordingly, it sustained the disciplinary action Martinez took against Rivera. (Rivera v. City of Laredo; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Richard Gonzalez, Laredo)