TPA Hotline March 2015

County clerk may or may not store certified agenda

Q:  When I requested a copy of the certified agenda of an executive session of our county commissioners court, I learned from the county clerk that the public does not have access to taped or written certified agendas and that those can only be accessed by a court order. I get that, but, in hopes of adding some depth to a news story, I asked the county clerk to tell me who has custody of the commissioners court’s certified agendas. She said she did not have them, and to ask the county judge. Am I getting the runaround?

A:  You’re not getting the runaround. A state law, Local Government Code Chapter 81 titled “Commissioners Court” tells us in Sec. 81.003 (2) the clerk shall “keep the court’s books, papers, records and effects.” Paragraph (b) says “The court shall require the clerk to record the proceedings of each term of the court. This record may be in a paper or electronic format. After each term the clerk shall attest to the accuracy of this record.” And, Sec. 81.003(c) says “The clerk shall record the court’s authorized proceedings between terms. This record may be in a paper or electronic format.  The clerk shall attest to the accuracy of the record.”

Now, to get to your question, let’s look at an attorney general opinion, GA-0277. According to a couple of sentences in the summary on the last page of the opinion, the county clerk is required to keep the records of all open meetings of a commissioners court, but as a governmental body, the commissioners court has the discretion to allow or deny the county clerk admission to executive sessions of the court. And I quote: “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.”

So, you could say the statute is “permissive” in that the commissioners court may choose whether to put the certified agendas in a secure place that they alone can access or to leave that responsibility to the county clerk. Source: www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/opinion/search-opinions-orls-etc.

Q: Before I reconfigure my presses, I need some input on page sizes and column widths other TPA members are using. Just flipping through the 2015 Texas Newspaper Directory, I see a whole bunch of different sizes are being used. Can you figure out what are the most popular page sizes and column widths?

A: Thanks to  data from Texas Press Association’s combined directory and spreadsheet software, here are the numbers. By far, the most common size (used by 222 member newspapers) is 6 columns by 21.0 inches with columns at 1.833 inches. Coming in second (used by 125 member newspapers) is 6 columns by 21.5 inches but with a wide range of column widths, including the measurements: 1.5, 1.52, 1.528, 1.56, 1.562, 1,5625, 1.563, 1.579, 1.58, 1.583, 1.6, 1.6042, 1.611, 1.6111, 1.625, 1.63. 1.637, 1.6378, 1.6458, 1.646, 1.65, 1.66, 1.666, 1.667, 1.694, 1.7, 1.76, 1.77, 1.777, 1.778, 1.7986, 1.812, 1.8125, 1.828, 1.833, 1.85, 1.896, 2.00 and 2.0625. That’s 39 different widths. It could be a monument to publishers’ freedom of choice — or a testament to mechanical limitations — or mechanical flexibilities — of printing presses.

Q: My copy of the 2014 Texas Open Meetings Act Handbook has gone missing. I’d attempted to find the digital version but I came up empty handed after spending too much time looking for it on the attorney general’s website. Do you know where it’s tucked away?

A: When Greg Abbott was Texas attorney general, you could find the handbook under the Open Government tab at the Publications link. Now that Ken Paxton is AG, you will find open government publications, including the 2014 Texas Open Meetings Act Handbook, the 2014 Public Information Act Handbook, the 2014 Administrative Law Handbook and the Public Information Act Sign, at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/og/open-government-related-publications.

Q: I’d like to send my folks a reminder on all the rules regarding publishing public notices. I looked on the TPA website, but I couldn’t find such a document. I’m looking for a description of the newspaper’s responsibility (point size, affidavit requirement, etc.) in getting notices published. 

A:  Public notice requirements are scattered throughout Texas law and administrative code but the closest thing the State of Texas has to what you’re contemplating is Subchapter C of Government Code Chapter 2051: www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/GV/htm/GV.2051.htm

At that link, scroll to: 2051.041 through 2051.053. Also, it’s worthwhile to peruse Government Code Chapter 313, “Notice for Local and Special Laws,” at: www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/GV/htm/GV.313.htm.

An additional resource for looking up notices is Legal Notice Laws under the Advertising tab at www.texaspress.com.