TPA Hotline

Election commissions not subject to open meetings act rules

Q: Our county election commission has five members: the county judge, county clerk, tax assessor-collector and the chairs of the county Republican and Democratic parties. The commission appoints members to the early voting ballot board, appoints the early voting signature verification committee, approves the purchase of election supplies, etc. Is the commission subject to the open meetings law?

Copy of writ clocks in at one dollar per page

Q: A death row inmate filed a writ of habeas corpus to contest his imprisonment. This is a ground zero, front-page news story in my coverage zone. I need to study the writ and it is about 500 pages in length. A copy for public viewing resides in the district clerk’s office, but I do not have time to sit in the district clerk’s office to read the document, take notes, flip pages back and forth, make calls, etc. I was ready to pay 10 cents per page, but the district clerk said a digital version of the document is not available and she cited Government Code Sec.

County comes out ahead thanks to publishing legal notice

Q: What do you think of this? I was covering commissioners’ court this morning when one of the commissioners touched on an under-appreciated benefit of legal notices. He was praising the county tax office on a successful tax sale that was due in part to the notices printed in my newspaper. 
The county realized more than $109,000, partly from the sale of property and partly from people who realized through the notice their family property was being sold and voluntarily came in and paid the taxes. 

Candidacy filings become public information immediately

Q: We received the following statement from our school district’s communications director when we asked about the status of candidates for the board of trustees:
“To preserve the continuity of the election filing period, (the school district) will release the names of everyone who has completed the filing process when the filing period ends on Feb. 16th @ 4 p.m.”
After perusing Texas attorney general opinions I was unable to find one that addresses when candidates have to be named. 

Election Code limits use of registered voter list information

Q: I have some candidates wanting to communicate with registered voters through direct mail. I can get the list from the county. But Election Code Sec. 18.009, Unlawful Use of Information on Registration List, states: (a) A person commits an offense if the person uses information in connection with advertising or promoting commercial products or services that the person knows was obtained under Section 18.008. (b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor. Does this specifically exclude commercial products or services but not political advertising?

AG opinion says regular meetings not required for general law city

Q: Our general law city council does not meet on a weekly or even a monthly basis. So I asked the city secretary how bills get approved for payment. I was told that each councilperson comes to city hall and looks through the bills and gives the okay. I think the council should meet, as a body, in an open meeting, even if it’s just to approve the bills. I wrote a letter to the city administrator and to the mayor regarding this trend of not meeting. What do you think about it?

Executive session must be held in a location accessible to public

Q: If a city council convenes in open session at city hall and then adjourns, travels to a remote, private, controlled-access site, then conducts an executive session to interview city manager applicants, does the open meetings law allow that?
A: Let’s confine our search for an answer to the handy Texas Attorney General’s 2016 Open Meetings Handbook. The following language appears on page 40 under the header and paragraph, VIII. Open Sessions, A. Conducting the Meeting: 

Commissioners may choose to allow clerk in closed sessions

Q: Does the county clerk really belong in executive sessions of the county commissioners court? The county judge or any of our four county commissioners could push the button to start and stop the tape recorder in an executive session. Besides, our voters didn’t elect the county clerk to take part in budget and policy decisions.