The Coronavirus pandemic has changed how Texans engage with their elected officials.
By Stephanie Thomas
On March 17th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a partial suspension of the open meetings act in order to allow remote meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even before the pandemic began, participating in public meetings could be challenging. Public meetings often happen during the daytime when many people work and cannot attend. In the evenings, many people have children or other family obligations. People who do not have adequate access to transportation may have difficulty attending. For people struggling to make ends meet, attending public meetings can be untenable.
Many city and county governments within Texas have turned toward remote public meetings as a way to reduce the opportunity for the spread of COVID-19. Online meetings may be more accessible to more people interested in having a say in the decisions their elected officials are making. Some people, though, may not have access to the internet due to poverty or geography.
City councils, commissions, and other government entities continue to hold meetings, and many are focused on COVID-19 relief and recovery. A recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Amanda Timm, Frances Valdez, and Oni Blair recommended that agencies hold off on long-term projects until public hearings can once more be held. Many groups and individuals are asking the government to wait or to extend public participation opportunities given the current crisis.
Public Citizen looked at several major Texas cities to better understand how the public could participate in City Council. As you look below, remember that this information can change. This information is current as of April 28, 2020. We recommend contacting your city’s clerk or secretary for the most current information.
In Houston, the only way to make public comment at City Council is to attend public session at 2 P.M. on Tuesdays. There are no phone or video conferencing capacities, although you can watch City Council on livestream. The City is limiting the number of people allowed in the City Council Chambers to 10, meaning that commenters must stay in overflow rooms until their turn to speak to allow for social distancing.
You can reach the City of Houston City Secretary here or by calling 832.393.1100.
The City of San Antonio is holding City Council meetings via telephone conference call in order to protect public health and limit the spread of COVID-19. You can watch/listen to City Council on livestream, via Facebook, AT&T Channel 99, Grande channel 21, digital antenna 16, and by calling (210) 207-5555 (password 1111).
To make comment on a City Council agenda item, you can submit a comment in writing to the City Clerk by emailing PublicComment@sanantonio.gov or by telephone to (210) 207-6991 anytime between Monday and 12 pm Wednesday. Please include your name, telephone number and the agenda item that you are speaking on. All public comments will occur at the beginning of the council meeting.
You can reach the San Antonio City Clerk here or by calling 210.207.7253.
All City Boards and Commissions are now meeting via telephone/online conferencing indefinitely, with the exception of the Employee Retirement Fund. You can watch Dallas City Council on livestream, and sign up for public comment here.
You can reach the City of Dallas City Secretary here or by calling 214-670-3738.
The city of Austin has set up options to attend City Council virtually or through the phone. No in-person comments are allowed, but the public can make comment via telephone if they register in advance.
To speak remotely at the Council Meeting, residents must submit an online registration form in advance of the next meeting. When the registration form is received, residents will receive either an email or phone call providing the telephone number to call to the meeting. The city requires that speakers call in at least 45 minutes prior to the meeting start in order to speak, and late callers will not be accepted and will not be able to speak. You can send handouts and other information to firstname.lastname@example.org by 12 pm on Wednesday. This information will be provided to the Mayor and Council before the meeting.
For people requiring Spanish translation, email City.Clerk@austintexas.gov at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. You can watch City Council on livestream.
You can reach the City of Austin City Clerk here or by calling 512-974-2210.
To learn more, contact the El Paso City Clerk here or by calling 832.393.1100.
The Corpus Christi City Council provides a livestream, which you can access on its calendar by clicking on the video for the event that you’d like to view. To submit public comment, please send an email to email@example.com or follow the COVID-19 comment instructions here.
To learn more, contact the Corpus Christi City Secretary here or by calling (361) 826-2489.
To learn more, contact the Plano City Secretary here or by calling (972) 941-7120.
To learn more, contact the Laredo City Secretary here or by calling (972) 941-7120.
The people of Lubbock can participate in city council meetings via zoom. The link to the zoom meeting is posted directly on the city council agenda near the top, which you can access here. You can also livestream the meeting here.
To learn more, contact the Lubbock City Secretary here or by contacting them by phone at (806) 775-2026 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.