TPA Hotline | Ed Sterling, TPA Member Services Director
Q: My county clerk did not submit an election notice for publication in my newspaper. Should she have?
A: Texas Election Code does not require a public/legal notice of a runoff election to be published in a newspaper. Most counties just post runoff election notices on the bulletin board at the courthouse or tape it to the inside of a courthouse window so citizens can read it from outdoors, after hours.
Q: I don’t usually publish the names of minors arrested on criminal charges. Now I am not so sure why I don’t. What’s your take?
A: You have the freedom to publish whatever you want, thanks to the First Amendment. The decision to publish the names of minors in the context you provided is inherently sensitive. First, though, are the names in an official document that came directly from someone you know at the courthouse? Also, before deciding, ask yourself if there will ever be an exception in which you would not publish the information. What would happen if you publish a kid’s name, something similar happens again and you decide not to publish another kid’s name? You might want to think about a policy and share it with your readers. Beyond that, there’s good information at texaspress.com that ties into your topic. It’s the paragraph titled “Juveniles” in the publication “Law and the Media in Texas” at: http://www.texaspress.com/index.php/publications/law-media/716-law-a-the-media-in-texas--police-news-pitfalls.
Q: Our city’s economic development corporation doesn’t have to comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act because no one has ever detected a pattern of their recommendations being rubberstamped by the city council. But the EDC has a page on the city’s website and I missed their last meeting because whoever was supposed to post it — didn’t. Does the law address a situation like this in any way?
A: Thanks to the Office of the Attorney General’s free, online publication, “2012 Texas Open Meetings Act Made Easy” the answer is easily found. It says the Texas Open Meetings Act requires a city, county, school district, junior college, junior college district, economic development corporation and regional mobility authority to publish notice of their open meetings on their Internet websites, if they maintain an Internet website. But, according to the Attorney General, if failure to post the notice can be attributed “to technical problems beyond the control of the governmental body or economic development corporation” you may be without recourse.
Q: Our school board approved an anonymous donation of $20,000 for the purchase of laptops for students. Is the name of the donor public information or can the donor remain anonymous?
A: The Texas Public Information law is silent as to confidentiality of gifts or donations to a public school district, although the law does have an exception that allows the identity of a donor to an institution of higher education to be confidential. The Texas Open Meetings Act says this, in Government Code Sec. 551.073: a governmental body (such as your school board) may go into closed session to deliberate a prospective gift or donation. But, the school board would have to call a vote in open session on whether to accept the gift or donation. A motion could be made and seconded without the donor’s name being mentioned, but I think it’s a fair question for you to ask who the donor is, whether you get an answer or not. I can see the headline now: “Anonymous donor generously provides gift for school children.” If you figure out who the donor is after the meeting, you could ask for an interview. Maybe then it would be OK even if the school district promised not to reveal the donor’s identity. Your question reminds me of the 1950s TV show, The Millionaire. Gifts were contingent on the donor’s identity remaining anonymous.