Q: How much can my city spend on a police vehicle without publishing a bid notice in the newspaper?
A: Local Government Code Sec. 252.021, Competitive Requirements for Purchases, says for municipalities, the threshold for publishing a bid notice is any amount greater than $50,000. On the other hand, if your city is home-rule, the competitive bidding threshold in the city charter might be an amount less than $50,000.
When you can, spend a few minutes at the state's new purchasing portal txsmartbuy.com. In a casual search of the portal, I found a Ford police interceptor sedan for less than $23,000 and a Chevrolet Tahoe for less than $29,000.
For more on the subject, see Local Government Code Chapter 262.023 for details on the county bid threshold and see Education Code Chapter 44.031 for details on the bid threshold for school districts. With those thresholds in mind, you might want to assign a reporter to do a little spelunking. A school district's small, regularly stocked items may aggregate to a number larger than the bid threshold over a fiscal year.
A request for information on purchasing schedules and amounts for a random selection of items might yield results you'll want to share with readers. Local governmental bodies' checkbooks are public information. The state comptroller posts transparency ratings that, in a sense, reward local governmental bodies for posting their checkbooks online.
Q: At a bond hearing, the judge ordered my reporter to leave the courtroom because she was using a voice recorder. Is that the way it goes these days?
A: Judges have that power. A Texas courtroom proceeding is not the same as an open meeting, where a member of the public may bring in and use a recording device. The Texas Supreme Court has media guidelines based on the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and Appellate Procedure. How about visiting with the judge to get ground rules. If you are told "it depends on circumstances" don't be surprised. For background, make sure to read Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 18c, Recording and Broadcasting of Court Proceedings, and Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 14, Recording and Broadcasting Court Proceedings.
Q: A self-service storage facility stopped placing notices of sale in my newspaper and now places them in a free sheet that I learned has a press run of 10,000. I don't print nearly that number of newspapers, but if I am not mistaken, that kind of notice belongs in a paid-circulation newspaper in the county and mine is the only one. Also, please tell me what authority I can lodge a complaint with over this.
A: You can lodge a complaint with your county attorney or district attorney. Self-service storage facilities have their own chapter in the state Property Code. Under Section 59.044, paragraph (b), the lessor must publish the notice once in each of two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county in which the self-service storage facility is located.
For the definition of a newspaper, see Government Code Sec. 2051.044, Type of Newspaper Required. (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 second-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.
Q: One of the city councils we cover is on the verge of proposing an ordinance restricting or outlawing street vendors. We've had independent contractors sell copies on the sidewalks and street corners for years and if the city council passes this ordinance, it's sure to have a negative impact. Does TPA have any resources that might be useful?
A: The 1999 Texas Attorney General Opinion, JC-0145, deals with street vending. The requestor asks, "Is it legal for a city to pass a city ordinance that restricts street vendors from selling in a city without a permit? If not, what restrictions can they impose?"
The opinion states that while a general-law municipality may not pass such an ordinance, a home-rule city "possesses all powers not denied to it by statutes or the constitution so long as the city has incorporated those powers in its home-rule charter."
Be that as it may, it would be prudent for a home rule city to ascertain whether its charter and ordinances, and any proposed ordinance, comport with fundamental personal rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Compelling First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment arguments have been made in cases concerning street vending ordinances. You will find a number of them cited in JC-0145.
Q: Our local school district has established its own police department. As I understand it, this police department is no different than a city police department in training, jurisdiction, etc. Wouldn't it also be true that this police department is subject to the same state laws as any other local law enforcement entity, except that they must redact a lot of information from records pertaining to children under age 17?
A: The Texas Attorney General's 2014 Public Information Handbook has a section devoted to that, titled Entities Subject to the Public Information Act. Under that section, you will find that the Texas Public Information Act applies to the information of every governmental body. You also will find governmental body defined, in a bottom-line sense, as any state or local governmental body or department of a state or local governmental body "that spends or that is supported in whole or in part by public funds." So, that language in the act attempts to galvanize the public's ability to follow the money.
Q: I believe there will be an exhibitor at the Texas Press trade show in January who helps newspapers like mine digitize pages. My most ancient issues are disintegrating. I need to make arrangements to get certain pages to whoever it is. Can you tell me who to contact?
A: Contact Ana Krahmer, email@example.com; phone (940) 565-3367; website http://tdnp.unt.edu. Ana Krahmer is coordinator of the Digital Newspaper Program at University of North Texas Libraries in Denton.
Q: What's the latest on meetings by videoconference? How is that section of the Texas Open Meetings Act being interpreted for charter schools?
A: Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams on March 18 requested an Attorney General Opinion on that topic, and his request was designated as RQ-1191-GA. The Office of the Texas Attorney General responded on Sept. 12 with an opinion, GA-1079.
As stated in the summary of the opinion: "An open enrollment charter school's governing board may conduct an open meeting by videoconference call as provided by section 551.127 of the Government Code. Provided that the member of the board of the open-enrollment charter school presiding over the meeting is present at a physical location open to the public in or within a reasonable distance of the charter school's geographic territory, other members of the board may participate in a videoconference call meeting from remote locations outside of the geographic service area, including areas outside of the state."
Q: I need to double-check the contents and wording of a local restaurant's public notice of application for a permit to serve alcoholic beverages. Do you have any samples on file that show how this type of public notice should look, and the typical wording?
A: We might have some in our old vertical files, but you have almost instant access to a trove of current ones.
Go to www.texaslegalnotices.com. In the upper left hand corner of the page you will see a word search field. Type these two words into the first search field box: alcoholic beverage. Leave the other search fields blank. Next, press the gray "search" button right next to the search field where you entered the text. You'll get a list of hits.