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Grubbs finds no wrongdoing in Palmer energy vote

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The Ellis County Press

PALMER – County/District Attorney Joe Grubbs could not find any wrongdoing with a city council vote on an energy contract despite the matter not being mentioned in language used for deliberating in executive session.

At Palmer’s Nov. 8 meeting, the city council entered into an executive session to discuss "pending or contemplated litigation," but upon returning after two hours behind closed doors, voted to cancel an energy contract, a matter unrelated to what was stated on the council agenda.

"The minutes of the November 18, 2008 meeting indicate that, following the executive session, the council voted to ‘authorize the mayor to enter into negotiations to terminate the contract with Strategic/PowerMax,’" Grubbs stated in a response to a complaint filed by The Ellis County Press.

"It is not possible to deduce either from the length of the executive session with the city attorney or from the action of the city council after the executive session that the governmental body receive anything other than advice about pending or contemplated litigation or otherwise received advice on legal issues permitted by Section 551.071."

Section 551.071 of the Texas Open Meetings Act authorizes executive sessions for pending or contemplated litigation, a settlement offer or matters in which the duty of the attorney to the governmental body conflicts with the laws.

Grubbs cited Gardner v. Herring in a court of appeals case out of Amarillo in 2000 that said, in part, "a governmental body cannot invoke Section 551.071 to convene a closed session and then discuss topics outside [that section]."

However, under the provisions of Texas Attorney General Opinion JC-0233, Grubbs points out that it allows a governing body’s attorney "to receive advice on the legal issues raised by a proposed contract, but under this provision the governmental body may not discuss the merits of a proposed contract, financial considerations, or other non-legal matters related to the contract merely because its attorney is present."

The contract wasn’t approved during last week’s regular scheduled meeting.

" If I signed the papers it would be illegal," said Doug Young, city manager.

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