The Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), Government Code Chapter 551, effectively restricts members of a governmental body from discussing public business or public policy within their jurisdiction outside of an open meeting (except for expressly authorized executive sessions).
FAILURE OF ELECTED OFFICIALS TO COMPLY WITH THE OPEN MEETING ACT CAN RESULT IN CRIMINAL PROSECUTION.
The potential for an e-mail message to create an illegal walking quorum has traditionally limited the use of e-mail as a mode of communication between members of a governing body. In a five member governing body, an e-mail conversation between two board members can easily be transmitted to a third member, which constitutes a majority and which can violate the law. This can also occur by mistake by simply selecting "reply to all" on and a group broadcast message.
In 2013, the Texas Open Meeting Act was amended to specifically allow electronic communication between members of a governing body without violating the Texas Open Meeting Act, provided certain conditions were met.
- Messages are posted and viewable by the public on an on-line message board.
- Communications are displayed in real time and remain viewable for at least 30 days.
When appropriately used in conjuction with a public message board, e-mail can now be used as an effective communication tool for members of a governmental body. Permitted electronic discussions provide members with a way to openly communicate and discuss issues with each other outside of the formal public meeting without violation the open meeting act. This allows for exploration of different perspectives as well as full understanding and identification of options.