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Open meetings settlement closed to the public

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Open meetings settlement closed to the public

  • The length and terms of the probation agreed upon by a county hospital board member accused of violating the Texas Open Meetings Law are secret.

Sep. 29, 2003 — A Texas district attorney and a county hospital board member are refusing to disclose the details of a settlement agreement in which charges of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act have been dropped against the board member.

Montgomery County Hospital District board secretary Nicol Huff agreed to serve a probationary period in exchange for the dismissal of two counts of conspiracy to circumvent the Open Meetings Act, The Associated Press reported Saturday. Ironically, the length and terms of the probationary period are closed to the public.

“That is between Ms. Huff, me and the probation officer,” District Attorney Mike McDougal told the AP.

Each violation of the law could have resulted in fines up to $500 and six months in jail. The trial was scheduled for Sept. 29.

The charges stem from a December 2002 board vote to dismiss Don Disbennett, then the hospital’s chief executive officer. Board member Bill Leigh claimed that four of the board members, including Huff, met in secret before the meeting to discuss Disbennett’s termination and replacement. It is a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Act for public officials to meet with less than a quorum or to hold secret deliberations.

Leigh became suspicious when three of the board members changed their position on terminating Disbennett between meetings on Dec. 16 and 17.

“I didn’t know what might have transpired,” Leigh told the Houston Chronicle in June. “But I knew decisions had been made without being discussed in open meetings.”


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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