At the advice of Dallas' attorney Tom Perkins, Mayor Laura Miller is scrapping her original plan to hold five closed-door meetings with City Council members this month over the Wright Amendment.
Perkins told Miller that because the meetings would have less than a quorum of council members so as to stay private, the city could be considered in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. That could mean a fine of as much as $500 and up to six months in jail.
"The mayor will heed Mr. Perkins' advice and does not intend to hold any meetings in violation of the Open Meetings Act," Frank Librio, Miller's chief of staff, wrote in an e-mail.
The first meeting was scheduled for Monday, but the meetings were called off by Friday, Librio said.
In a March 9 memo to Dallas council members, a copy of which the Star-Telegram obtained, Miller urged her 14 colleagues to sign up for the meetings.
But "due to quorum issues, we will confirm your attendance based on our ability to do so without breaking any of our standing council committee quorums so that the meetings can remain closed to the public," she wrote.
Perkins followed up with a memo Wednesday, a copy of which the Star-Telegram obtained.
He cites a portion of the Open Meetings Act that says it's an offense if a government official "knowingly conspires to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations in violation of this chapter."
"I therefore recommend that you do not conduct a series of meetings with members of the city council in numbers less than a quorum to seek input on the Wright Amendment negotiations," Perkins wrote.
He also told Miller that at her suggestion, he will schedule executive sessions to talk about legal issues surrounding the controversial law. Council members can legally meet behind closed doors to discuss legal issues.
The 1979 Wright Amendment restricts nonstop flights from Dallas Love Field to cities in Texas and nearby states. It has come under attack by Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, based at Love Field, and by legislators in Texas and other states nationwide. Critics say the law is outdated and prevents competition among airlines for low fares.
As a result, Miller and Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief have talked regularly over the past few weeks about how to craft a local compromise.
Also, the Dallas and Fort Worth city councils passed resolutions asking Congress to hold off on any changes to Wright until June 14 and Aug. 1, respectively.
So far Moncrief and Miller have held many of the details of their negotiations close to the vest and offered virtually identical public statements.
The Fort Worth council could talk about Wright behind closed doors today during its regularly scheduled executive session. In three of the past four scheduled council meetings, dating to Feb. 14, the Fort Worth agenda has listed "legal issues concerning D/FW Airport" as a reason for a private meeting among council members.
Dallas council member Angela Hunt agreed with Perkins' advice.
"It's certainly important that we have transparency in our government," she said. But she also said there's a good reason for meeting in private. "I think the idea in having the smaller meetings in a closed-door session was to avoid posturing or grandstanding and to really get to the nuts and bolts of the issues."
Hunt also said holding 14 meetings instead of five will be a greater challenge.
"Anytime you're spreading out your meetings, it's going to take a little more time," Hunt said. "I think the ultimate goal is to try to work through this issue as a council in a productive way."
Perkins said the issue has been resolved.
"The mayor has said publicly that she does not intend to hold any meetings that would violate the meetings act," Perkins said. "I take the mayor at her word on that."
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