September 1, 2021

Telephonic Participation in Public Meetings Now Limited to Advisory (Non-Statutory) Boards

Effective today, Governor Abbott has ended the temporary Open Meetings Act suspension that has allowed governmental bodies to meet telephonically during the pandemic.  This means you’ll have to come in person if you wish to speak during public comments at meetings of the City Council and of our boards and commissions governed by state law:  the Board of Adjustment, Building and Standards Commission, and Planning and Zoning Commission.  For our other boards, however, telephonic participation will remain available.

In the earliest days after the pandemic reached Texas, the Governor suspended certain provisions of the Act to allow telephonic meetings as a means to avoid large public gatherings.  Although here in Bellaire we resumed in-person meetings starting last June, we’ve been conducting them in hybrid fashion, preserving the telephonic option for those who preferred to participate remotely.  The Governor’s having now restored those provisions previously suspended, we’re unable to continue that approach for meetings to which the Act applies by state law.

But that’s not the case for meetings of our boards to which we only voluntarily apply the Act as a matter of local policy, not otherwise mandated by state law.  These advisory boards, as we commonly refer to them, are the Audit Finance Board, Culture and Arts Board, Environmental Sustainability Board, L.I.F.E. Advisory Board, and Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

With the highly contagious Delta variant and recent surge in cases, several members of our boards and commissions have requested they continue to be allowed to attend their meetings remotely.  We will honor that request, but are able to do so only for the advisory boards.  By temporarily suspending our voluntary application of the Act at the local level, we’re giving these boards the flexibility to maintain the hybrid approach, or even to conduct their meetings entirely telephonically.

Following the Governor’s restoration of the Act’s requirements, the City Council and statutory boards will revert to their pre-pandemic meeting format.  All public speakers and the members of those bodies will need to attend in person, with no option to dial in by phone.  Anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable coming in person, or who is affected by COVID-19 or in quarantine due to an exposure, will simply have to miss those meetings.

Meetings of the City Council and of the statutory boards are broadcast live (as they have been since before the pandemic) on the City website, local government access channels (Comcast 16, U-verse 99) and Facebook.  Public comment can always be submitted in writing, but as of now you’ll no longer be able to dial in remotely as an alternative to speaking in person.