Farmers Branch has spent a remarkable amount of time, money and energy over the past several years battling to limit the influence of Hispanics. It's infamous rental ban on people living in this country illegally cost the city seven years and $6 million in legal fees before it was struck down as unconstitutional last week, probably for good this time.
The fight to keep its at-large system of electing City Council members, which a number of Hispanic residents challenged in federal court, fared no better. In January, a judge ordered the city to adopt single-member districts, which led to the election of Ana Reyes as the first-ever HIspanic council member. The city quickly appealed the decision but, at a meeting on July 16, the newly elected council voted to drop the challenge.
Farmers Branch is now being sued over that decision, which leaves the city in an awkward, not to mention ironic, position. After years of battling in court to defend its efforts to repress Hispanics, it's now facing a lawsuit for doing the opposite.
The litigation is being brought by Mark Baker, a civic-minded but otherwise ordinary Farmers Branch resident who accuses the City Council of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. The City Council, he says, "concealed from the public" the purpose of their July 16 meeting and met illegally behind closed doors in in violation of state law.
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The suit continues:
The lack of debate over an ordinance of this magnitude was no accident. Rather, it was the result of a circumvention of [the Texas Open Meetings Act] which thwarted public participation in, and observation of, the debate and decision on the Motion to Dismiss. ... This conduct is particularly troubling because the hallmarks of the campaigns of Jeff Fuller, Kirk Connally and Ana Reyes were transparency and citizen input or vote on pending litigation.
Baker, who hasn't yet returned a message seeking comment, is suing on procedural grounds, but the suit suggests that he's more interested in preserving the at-large districts. The alleged Open Meetings Act violation is just what he has grounds to sue on.
It seems that Farmers Branch is damned if they do, damned if they don't.