Videoconferencing Standards for the Texas Open Meetings Act
An interesting provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, TOMA, and the focus of this blog, is the use of videoconference technology to allow both members of the governmental body and the public to attend meetings by videoconference call. This is allowed even if there is no emergency causing the use of the videoconference meeting, although there are limitations to remote participation. The Texas Open Meetings Act is set out in Chapter 551 of the Government Code. Section 551.127 of the Texas Local Government Code authorizes a member or employee of a governmental body to participate remotely in a meeting of the governmental body through a videoconference call if there is live video and audio feed of the remote participant that is broadcast live at the meeting and the feed complies with the other provisions of section 551.127. A key feature is that a quorum of the governmental body must be physically present at the location specified in the meeting notice, and that the location be physically open to the public. Also, the notice must specify that one or more of the members will attend via video conference.
The Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) is the official State technology agency. DIR specifies minimum standards for the audio and video signals required at a videoconference meeting and the quality of the signals at each location of the meeting must meet or exceed those standards. The department recently updated its standards on September 7, 2021. The general basics are that any participant to the meeting must use a computer with a camera, microphone, and speakers to allow the meeting attendees to see the person remotely attending, and for the person to see and hear all other participants. In addition, at the meeting location there must be a video monitor of a size and quality proportional to the room and speakers of sufficient volume and quality to allow the attendees to see and hear all speakers. The video quality must be sufficient to allow participants to see the demeanor of each participant to the meeting, including expressions on the persons face, in addition to the audio. The governmental body must “make at least an audio recording of the meeting” and to make the recording available to the public.
In light of modern technology, and the available videoconferencing technology, many home computers or laptops will easily meet the technical requirements. The TOMA and the office of Information Technology do not require any particular videoconferencing platform be used, and most commercially available products will be sufficient to satisfy the requirements. As such, videoconferencing tools may be valuable for Cities to consider using when a member of the body cannot be physically present but wishes to participate in the meeting.
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