Conroe, April 3 – The prosecution in the TOMA Trial, the Trial of the 21st Century, began its presentation to attempt to argue for the constitutionality of the Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) with former Houston City Councilman James Gilbert Rodriguez. Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley, and local political consultant Marc Davenport face criminal charges allegedly for violating TOMA by conspiring to circumvent TOMA’s open meeting requirements by meeting in numbers less than a quorum under Section 143 of the Act.
Rodriguez, 41, started his career as a batboy for the Houston Astros but, after graduating from the University of Houston, came to work as chief of staff to Carol Alvarado, a Houston City Council member. From 2008 t0 2014, Rodriguez ran for and was elected to the City Council in the same seat from which Alvarado retired.
Rodriguez served on a number of Council committees and chaired Quality of Life and Affirmative Action committees. After he retired from the City Council, Rodriguez worked as a vice president for Yellow Cab and he became a private business development and public affairs consultant.
He testified that he is very familiar with TOMA and understands the broad public policy that meetings should be open to the public. Rodriguez was emphatic that meetings in less than a quorum for the purpose of deliberations are prohibited under Section 143 of TOMA.
“My understanding and my position was to be open and accountable to my constituents and, as a councilman, I took the Open Meetings Act very seriously,” Rodriguez told Visiting District Judge Randy Clapp during his testimony. “I know that under the Open Meetings Act, you must post meeting agendas 72 hours in advance.”
Rodriguez discussed Section 143 at great length both with direct references to the statute as well as answering questions with a number of hypothetical scenarios. “As a councilman, I knew that I couldn’t meet in numbers less than a quorum with the intent of conducting secret deliberations.” He explained that “secret deliberations” are “verbal exchanges discussing an issue or public business.”
*TOMA never hindered my work as a City Councilman or restricted my ability to talk to constituents or other City Councilmen…I was never part of a rolling quorum and understood such behavior would be illegal.”
During cross-examination by Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin of Houston, Rodriguez stated, “I would err on side of caution and give notice before I’d have a conversation with several councilmen.” Rodriguez noted that he and Councilwoman Alvarado would not give formal notice under TOMA before they would conduct a town hall meeting at which other Council members might attend.
Rodriguez made an important distinction between communications that were and were not deliberations. He explained to the Court that “if you’re meeting secretly to talk about a specific item of public business, then you’re deliberating.”
There were a number of the “Establishment” politicians of Montgomery County in attendance in the Courtroom to support Doyal, Riley, and Davenport. Former Sheriff Tommy Gage, Riley’s best friend, sat through the entire hearing. Deanne Riley, Riley’s wife and the $58,000 per year receptionist in the Constable Precinct 5 Office, thanks to a job Riley created for her, also attended the entire hearing. Investigator David Lanoue, Conroe City Councilman Duane Ham, Amy Doyal (Doyal’s wife), Maris Blair (attorney Jim Blair’s daughter), Precinct 5 Constable David Hill, former Sheriff Joe Corley, and attorney Nelda Luce Blair also attended the entire hearing this morning.
“I never hesitated to meet with constituents. But as far as other Councilmen, three’s a crowd,” Rodriguez testified.