Q: Are booster clubs subject to the public information law if I ask for their finances, donations and expenses? The one I’m asking about has ties to the school district but is not registered as a non-profit (yet).
A: Our state’s open government laws — the Texas Opening Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act — pertain to governmental bodies. A booster club is not a governmental body.
If you happen to be covering a booster club meeting for the newspaper or if you are attending the meeting as a member of the club, you might want to take note if a quorum of school board members is present. Keep in mind that discussion of public business is reserved only for an official open meeting of the school board.
See page 20 of the Office of the Attorney General’s 2016 Texas Open Meetings Handbook and find paragraph D, titled Informal or Social Meetings:
“When a quorum of the members of a governmental body assembles in an informal setting, such as a social occasion, it will be subject to the requirements of the Act if the members engage in a verbal exchange about public business or policy. The Act’s definition of a meeting expressly excludes gatherings of a quorum of a governmental body at a social function unrelated to the public business that is conducted by the body. The definition also excludes from its reach the attendance by a quorum at certain other events such as conventions, ceremonial events and press conferences. In both instances, there is no ‘meeting’ under the Act if formal action is not taken and any discussion of public business is incidental to the social function, convention, workshop, ceremonial event or press conference.”
Next, if the booster club eventually registers as a non-profit, it will be subject to our state Business Organizations Code, Chapter 22, Nonprofit Corporations.
If booster club records are what you’re looking for, instead of the Public Information Act, see: Sec. 22.353, AVAILABILITY OF FINANCIAL INFORMATION FOR PUBLIC INSPECTION, at this URL: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/BO/htm/BO.22.htm#22.353. That law states: (a) A corporation shall keep records, books, and annual reports of the corporation’s financial activity at the corporation’s registered or principal office in this state for at least three years after the close of the fiscal year.
(b) The corporation shall make the records, books, and reports available to the public for inspection and copying at the corporation’s registered or principal office during regular business hours. The corporation may charge a reasonable fee for preparing a copy of a record or report.
Q: We got wind that a citizen had filed a complaint with our district attorney, alleging he witnessed our county commissioners holding an illegal meeting. We cited the Texas Public Information Act in our request for a copy of the complaint. The district attorney turned down our request for the information but he followed protocol, asking the attorney general for an opinion as to whether the complaint was subject to release. A few weeks later, we received a heavily redacted copy of the complaint from the attorney general’s office. Even the complainant’s name was redacted. What do you think about that?
A: Texas attorneys general have furnished us with decisions on whether an allegation was subject to disclosure. You will find three hits on the word “allegation” in the current version of the Texas Attorney General’s Public Information Handbook. Each decision concludes that the information was not subject to disclosure because prior determinations and court cases suggested, to them, that allegations that turn out to be unfounded are not subject to disclosure.
Here is a link to an explanation of the redaction procedure:
Q: What is the exact wording of the state law requiring our tax collector/assessor to publish the standard notice informing public of the property tax protest period?
A: It’s the chief appraiser, not the collector/assessor, who is required to publish the notice. Please see http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/TX/htm/TX.41.htm#41.70.
Here’s the text of Tax Code Sec. 41.70:
PUBLIC NOTICE OF PROTEST AND APPEAL PROCEDURES. (a) On or after May 1 but not later than May 15, the chief appraiser shall publish notice of the manner in which a protest under this chapter may be brought by a property owner. The notice must describe how to initiate a protest and must describe the deadlines for filing a protest. The notice must also describe the manner in which an order of the appraisal review board may be appealed. The comptroller by rule shall adopt minimum standards for the form and content of the notice required by this section.
(b) The chief appraiser shall publish the notice in a newspaper having general circulation in the county for which the appraisal district is established. The notice may not be smaller than one-quarter page of a standard-size or tabloid-size newspaper, and may not be published in the part of the paper in which legal notices and classified advertisements appear.
Q: In the run-up to our local election, a school board member sent out a mailer printed on school district letterhead. I’d say the message amounts to a thinly disguised bid for re-election. Is there anything official out there that weighs in on a situation like this?
A: On the Texas Ethics Commission website resides ETHICS ADVISORY OPINION NO. 532, rendered in October 2015. It addresses the question: “Whether a city officeholder may distribute political advertising on certain letterhead that contains a logo and a slogan that were designed in part with the city’s public funds.”
The commission was asked to consider whether a city officeholder may distribute political advertising on letterhead that contains a logo and a slogan that were designed in part with the city’s public funds.
At the end of the opinion, the summary states: “An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not use letterhead that is created by city staff or with city resources, and that contains the city’s logo and slogan that were designed with city funds, to write and distribute political advertising.”
For the complete opinion, see: https://www.ethics.state.tx.us/opinions/532.html