Does TML have a web page with COVID-19 resources for cities?
Yes, TML has a Coronavirus Resource page with helpful state and federal links, TML and other resources, and current news items. The page is updated every day, and it can be accessed from the TML home page at www.tml.org.
What's happening with TML conferences and events?
Your safety and security are our top priorities. In light of increased city travel restrictions and the CDC's recommendation to cancel all events of 50 or more, we are cancelling most TML training events taking place between now and May 15. City officials registered for these events will be notified and registration fees will be fully refunded. If feasible, we'll reschedule these events later in the year. Check here for training updates.
What is TML doing to urge the governor to suspend or modify state laws to make it easier for communities to react to coronavirus?
The League has compiled a list of state statutes that, if suspended or modified by the governor, would assist cities with responding to the COVID-19 threat. Allowing for easier city council meetings by phone or otherwise was the key request, and that has been granted (see below). This list has been communicated to the governor's office, but we encourage city officials to contact his office on issues that are important to you.
Should our mayor declare a local state of disaster in relation to the coronavirus?
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has issued a statewide disaster declaration and President Donald Trump has declared a state of national emergency. Whether to declare a local state of disaster related to the virus is up to each mayor in the first instance, with the extension of the declaration beyond seven days requiring city council approval. That being said, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the cancellation of all mass gatherings for at least eight weeks. Some Texas cities have included that recommendation in their disaster declarations as a recommendation, while others have made compliance mandatory. Here is an example proclamation of disaster that includes mandatory mass gathering cancellation.
If we decide to declare a state of disaster, what does that process look like?
The mayor is authorized to declare a local state of disaster if a disaster has occurred or is imminent. Tex. Gov't Code §418.108(a). An order or proclamation declaring, continuing or terminating a local disaster must be given prompt general publicity and must be promptly filed with the city secretary. Id. §418.108(c). The declaration of a local disaster activates applicable provisions of local or interjurisdictional emergency management plans and authorizes the furnishing of aid and assistance under the declaration. Id §418.108(d). A disaster declaration lasts for no more than seven days unless continued or renewed by city council or a joint board, as applicable. Id. §418.108(b).
Can an emergency meeting be conducted via telephone conference?
Yes, state law has always allowed a city council to hold a meeting via telephone conference or video conference assuming certain, complex requirements were met. This evening, the governor's office listened to a request from TML and local government leaders to relax some of the burdensome requirements associated with doing so. His office issued the following guidance on the subject:
Governor Greg Abbott today acted to maintain government transparency and continued government operations while reducing face-to-face contact for government open meetings. As Texas works to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Governor granted the Office of the Attorney General's request for suspension of certain open-meeting statutes. This temporary suspension will allow for telephonic or videoconference meetings of governmental bodies that are accessible to the public in an effort to reduce in-person meetings that assemble large groups of people.
"Even as the State of Texas takes precautionary measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, we also have a responsibility to maintain government transparency," said Governor Abbott. "With today's action, Texas is reducing non-essential in-person contact for a limited period, while ensuring that state and local government entities continue to work to fulfill necessary functions and with full transparency for the people of Texas. I urge state and local officials to do their part to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by avoiding meetings that bring people into large group settings."
In accordance with section 418.016 of the Texas Government Code, Governor Abbott has suspended various provisions that require government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location. This temporary suspension will leave important open-meeting protections in place:
- Members of the public will be entitled to participate and address the governmental body during any telephonic or videoconference meeting.
- To hold a telephonic or videoconference meeting, a governmental body must post a written notice that gives the public a way to participate remotely, such as a toll-free dial-in number, and that includes an electronic copy of any agenda packet that officials will consider at the meeting.
- A governmental body must provide the public with access to a recording of any telephonic or videoconference meeting.
Local officials who have questions about open meeting requirements after this suspension should submit them to the Office of the Attorney General via e-mail at TOMA@oag.texas.gov or by leaving a message at (888) 672-6787. Officials with questions about teleconference and videoconference capabilities offered by the Texas Department of Information Resources should visit dir.texas.gov or call (512) 475-4700. Officials who hold videoconference meetings are encouraged to provide for participation via telephone for members of the public without videoconferencing capability. If officials are not holding a telephonic or videoconference meeting, all open-meeting requirements apply.
The guidance above does leave some questions. Presumably, the existing notice requirements in the Open Meetings Act apply, including those related to one-hour posting for emergency meetings if certain conditions are met. League attorneys will review and make further clarifications as more information becomes available.
Please contact Scott Houston, TML General Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.