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A city that experiences an emergency or an urgent public necessity may conduct a meeting without providing the 72-hour notice requirement that is generally required to conduct a meeting under the Open Meetings Act. An emergency or urgent public necessity exists only if immediate action is required because of: (1) an imminent threat to public health and safety; or (2) a reasonably unforeseeable situation. See Tex. Government Code §551.045(b). The sudden relocation of a large number of residents from the area of a declared disaster to a governmental body’s jurisdiction is considered to be a reasonably unforeseeable situation for a reasonable period immediately following the relocation. Id. at §551.045(e).
The city must post notice of an emergency meeting or an addition of an emergency item to an already existing agenda to a properly posted meeting at least two hours before the scheduled time of the meeting. Id. at 551.045(a). The notice must clearly identify the emergency or urgent public necessity justifying the emergency meeting. Id. at 551.045(c). The city must also provide notice of the emergency meeting or emergency item to members of certain members of the news media prior to the scheduled time of the meeting. Id. at §§551.045(e) and 551.047. If the emergency meeting is due to the sudden relocation of a large number of residents from the area of the declared disaster to the city, notice to the media must be provided not later than one hour before the meeting. Id. at §551.045(e).
A quorum is generally required at an emergency meeting before city council can conduct any city business. However, a quorum is not required if: (1) the city is wholly or partly located in the area of a disaster declared by the president of the United States or the governor; and (2) a majority of the members of city council are unable to be present at a meeting of city council as a result of the disaster. See Tex. Government Code §418.1101.
A city council may hold a meeting via telephone conference if an emergency or public necessity exists and it is impossible or difficult for a quorum of the city council to meet at one location. See Tex. Government Code §551.125(b). A notice of the meeting must be posted, specifying the location of the meeting as the same place where the meetings of the city council are usually held. Id. at §552.125(d). However, the notice need not specify that the meeting will be held by telephone conference. See Tex. Attorney Gen. Op. No. JC-352 (2001). The meeting must be set up to provide two-way communication during the entire meeting and the identity of each speaker must be clearly stated prior to the speaker speaking. Id. at §551.125(f). Additionally, all portions of the meeting, other than closed executive sessions, must be audible to the public at the location of the meeting, must be recorded, and the recording made available to the public. Id. at §551.125(e).
If a catastrophe prevents a city council from holding an otherwise properly posted meeting, the council may convene at a convenient location within 72 hours of the properly posted meeting if the action is taken in good faith and not done to circumvent the Open Meetings Act. See Tex. Government Code §551.0411(b). A catastrophe is defined as a condition or occurrence that interferes physically with the ability of a governmental body to conduct a meeting, including a fire, flood, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, wind, rain, snow storm, power failure, transportation failure, interruption of communication facilities, epidemic, riot, civil disturbance, enemy attack or other actual or threatened act of lawlessness or violence. Id. at §551.0411(c). If the city council is unable to convene the meeting within 72 hours, it may only subsequently convene the meeting if it provides 72-hour notice of the meeting. Id. at §551.0411(b).
Texas law contains no specific disaster-related exceptions from the general process of adopting city budgets and tax rates. However, a city may request the governor waive or suspend any budget and tax rate deadlines imposed by state law. See Tex. Government Code §418.016(e). The governor is authorized to waive or suspend such deadlines if the waiver or suspension is reasonably necessary to cope with a disaster. Id. If a local law, such as a charter requirement, ordinance or resolution, imposes a budget or tax rate adoption deadline on the city, the mayor may suspend such deadline if: (1) the city is wholly or partially located in an area declared as a disaster by the United States president or the governor; and (2) the mayor (or the governing body in the absence of a mayor) proclaims the city is unable to comply with the requirement because of the disaster. Id. at §418.1075(a). The deadline may not be suspended for more than 30 days after the date the mayor or the governing body, if applicable, makes the proclamation. Id. at §418.1075(b).