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.
A: Please read Texas attorney general opinion GA-0277 dated Dec. 7, 2004.
The summary at the end of the opinion says: “The county clerk is required by section 81.003 of the Local Government Code to keep the records of all open meetings of a commissioners court. The commissioners court as a governmental body has the discretion to allow or deny the county clerk admission to executive sessions of the court. The commissioners court as a governmental body is the proper custodian of the tape of an executive session, but it may delegate that duty to the county clerk. A commissioners court acts by majority vote of its members; a single member acting alone has no authority to alter court policy. A release of the tape of an executive session to the county clerk would not render the tape a public document under the Public Information Act. Such a tape may be released to the public only under court order.”
Q: What does Texas law say about newsroom searches?
A: Our source on this is the Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 18, titled “Search Warrants.”
Under Article 18.01, scroll down to paragraph (e), which reads as follows:
e) A search warrant may not be issued under Subdivision (10) of Article 18.02 of this code to search for and seize property or items that are not described in Subdivisions (1) through (9) of that article and that are located in an office of a newspaper, news magazine, television station, or radio station, and in no event may property or items not described in Subdivisions (1) through (9) of that article be legally seized in any search pursuant to a search warrant of an office of a newspaper, news magazine, television station, or radio station.
Q: I need facts and figures about smart phone use and broadband connections in my counties. Where should I look? What’s the latest on that?
A: Three ideas: (1) Ask your public librarian; (2) Ask local internet service providers; and (3) Try American FactFinder, a search tool available at the Census website, www.census.gov.
Go to “Percent of Households With a Broadband Internet Subscription” and scroll to find a list of counties in Texas. If the county you want to look up isn’t on the list, pick any county to see how the data are presented. While you’re at it, notice that you can select a year: (2013, 2014, 2015). To make it easier to compare years, cut and paste the data into your own spreadsheet and see if a pattern emerges.
And, here’s a mind-opening article that speaks to service weaknesses and voids, written by Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission: https://www.fcc.gov/news-events/blog/2017/07/13/bridging-digital-divide
Also, for recent research-based stories on the topic, check Pew stories at these links:
For one more perspective, here’s a story from NASPA Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education:
Finally, it might interest you to know that over the years, members of the Texas Library Association have testified before committees of the Texas Legislature, giving lawmakers reliable, researched facts and figures about the so-called Digital Divide. Their association, along with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and ours, have stood together in the recognition that state and local government should continue to reach the highest percentage of Texans by supporting laws that require public notices to be published in printed newspapers of general circulation.
Q: What can I do to nudge my hospital district into improving its performance on open meetings and open records?
A: Find out if your administrator and each board member have taken the mandatory online open government training provided by the Office of the Attorney General. It’s a fair question to ask. Anyone who has taken the training should have a course completion certificate. Read more at: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/og/open-government-training
Next, the Texas Comptroller’s Transparency Stars program recognizes and applauds local governmental bodies that “provide easy online access not only to traditional financial data, but also to information regarding contracts and procurement, economic development, public pension plans and debt obligations.”
Local governments may apply for recognition in up to five areas after receiving an initial star for traditional financial transparency. Those areas are titled Traditional Finances, Contracts and Procurement, Economic Development, Public Pensions and Debt Obligations.
Your newspaper can cheer on the successes achieved in those areas.
There is no substitute for the hospital board’s responsiveness in fulfilling your newspaper’s direct requests for public information and compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act.