Public notice law and neighboring communities Print E-mail
Texas Press Messenger
Thursday, 04 October 2012 09:42

ed2012mug"TPA Hotline" by Ed Sterling | TPA Member Services Director

Q: Recently a neighboring weekly publication closed. I am interested in speaking to the communities that published their legal notices with them about using our publication. Is there a mile range that figures into this for cities and school districts or is it based on circulation in their ZIP codes? Also, is there some all-inclusive book of legal guidelines I can purchase?

A: Do you have subscribers in those cities and school districts? Government Code Chapter 2051, titled “Government Documents, Publications and Notices,” is the primary source of guidance on your question. In support of that chapter is a 2005 Texas Attorney General opinion, GA-0380, that attempts to define the term “general circulation.” The opinion, which holds the force of law, says that general circulation means “more than a de minimis” number of subscribers. That means more than just a few. Whoever prepares your newspaper’s postal statements can give you the number of subscribers you have in each of those communites.

Next, see Sec. 2051.044, titled “Type of Newspaper Required.” The law says:
(a) The newspaper in which a notice is published must:
(1) devote not less than 25 percent of its total column lineage to general interest items;
(2) be published at least once each week;
(3) be entered as periodical-class postal matter in the county where published;  and
(4) have been published regularly and continuously for at least 12 months before the governmental entity or representative publishes notice.
(b) A weekly newspaper has been published regularly and continuously under Subsection (a) if the newspaper omits not more than two issues in the 12-month period.

Also, see Government Code Sec. 2051.045, titled “Legal Rate Charged for Publication.” It says, “The legal rate for publication of a notice in a newspaper is the newspaper’s lowest published rate for classified advertising.” 

So, when you call on those cities and school districts, be prepared to show some sample public notices and the cost of running each, based on your rate card. Show how you use your rate card to calculate the costs of running quarter-page public notices and classified-style public notices. Make sure to point out that public notices that are printed in the newspaper are also posted on your newspaper’s website, free of charge.

Texas Press Association has more than 2,000 public/legal notice law requirements in statute and in administrative law listed in its Legal Notice Laws database under the Advertising tab at www.texaspress.com. Under the “Local Government” link, you will find public notices that cities and counties must publish in a newspaper.

Q: When I reference the Texas Railroad Commission in a story, what is the correct acronym to use on subsequent references? Is it TRC?

A: The generally recognized and almost invariably used acronym is RRC.

Q: Our county commissioners’ court must appoint a new justice of the peace to fill a sudden vacancy because it’s too late for the position to be placed on the November ballot. The current JP resigned and the resignation will be officially accepted at the next meeting. Can the commissioners’ court go into executive session to interview applicants for the position?

A: The Texas Open Meetings Act’s personnel exception allows a governmental body to go into executive session to have a discussion about potential appointees, but not to interview them. For more information, you will find in the Texas Attorney General’s 2012 Open Meetings Handbook, on page 52 under paragraph F, the header, “Who May Attend a Closed Session.”

Q: My county judge and one county commissioner were the only members of the commissioners’ court to vote on a certain action item on the meeting agenda. A quorum was present. The county judge made the motion and the one commissioner seconded it. A vote followed with three commissioners abstaining. Is a 2-0 vote in which the county judge participated enough to carry the motion?

A: “ABCs of County Government” found at www.dentoncounty.com/dept/forms/abccogov.pdf has this insight on pp. 4-5: “The county judge is the presiding officer of the commissioners court … (but) has no discretionary power to decide, for example, what business the court will hear, or what motions will be considered. The body as a whole decides this. The county judge is a voting member of the court, although in many counties, by custom s/he votes only in cases of ties. (And) there must be a quorum … to transact county business.” End of paraphrased quote.

With the abstentions, the vote doesn’t seem to hold water. However, a citizen would have to file a complaint with the district attorney over the conduct of the meeting in order to have the legalities of the situation addressed. The Attorney General’s Office does not enforce the Texas Open Meetings Act.