‘Lack of confidence’ insufficient excuse for emergency meeting
TEXAS–The city of Granger must reinstate a police officer with back pay because it failed to give 72 hours notice for a meeting called to fire him, thus violating the state’s open meetings law, an appeals court in Austin ruled in mid-July.
Reversing the lower court, Justice Marilyn Aboussie wrote that even if an emergency justified setting aside the 72-hour rule, the statute requires a notice of the emergency meeting that clearly identifies the emergency. “Lack of confidence,” which the town had cited as the justification for the emergency meeting, does not describe an imminent threat to public health and safety or a reasonably unforeseeable situation requiring immediate action, the court ruled.
Circuit Court Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield had ruled in March 1994 that an emergency existed because the officer, Joseph Piazza, had disregarded the instructions of the mayor; therefore, the 72 hours notice was not necessary. Piazza appealed that decision.
Piazza, who served as the only law enforcement officer in Granger for three years, was investigating the theft of wooden Christmas ornaments from the city park in early 1993.
One of Piazza’s suspects was a high school student from Taylor. Mayor Denny Pickett told Piazza not to travel to Taylor to interview the suspect, but Piazza did so anyway, calling the student out of class for the interview.
The student’s mother called a city councilman on March 1 or 2 to say she would be at the city council session that night to discuss with Piazza his questions to her daughter. The councilman notified the mayor that Piazza had conducted the interview.
At 9:45 a.m. March 3, the city secretary posted notice of a special emergency meeting of the city council which stated that the meeting was of “urgent public necessity” because of a “lack of confidence.” Four of the five council members met at noon with the mayor and the secretary and voted 4-0 to fire Piazza.
Piazza sued in District Court in Georgetown, saying the council failed to post notice of the meeting 72 hours in advance and that “lack of confidence” does not clearly identify any emergency that would justify an immediate meeting.
Eventually, most of the Christmas ornaments were found in a ditch outside the city. (Piazza v. City of Granger; Plaintiff’s Counsel: R. John Culler, Waco)