Q: We’ve received a letter to the editor and some of the writer’s word play is inappropriate for publication in the newspaper. Please read the letter and give me your reaction.
A: You are under no obligation to publish a letter to the editor, an opinion, an editorial, an advertisement or a photograph that you or your editorial board deem inappropriate.
If you’re looking for a way to offer the writer a path toward getting his letter published, you could ask him to replace the many euphemistic references in the letter with the name of the elected public official he is writing about.
If you decide not to publish the letter and the writer protests, remember, there are other avenues of expression open to him, thanks to the First Amendment. There’s a table in the coffee shop on your county square for the writer to speak his mind, if the proprietor doesn’t mind.
If the writer wants more reach, he can try another newspaper, or radio, television, podcast, newsletter, billboard, banner, pamphlet, flier, button, T-shirt, public discussion forum, skywriting, social media, etc.
Q: Is a school board required to go through its agenda items in the order given in the posted notice of meeting?
A: The Texas Open Meetings Act requires governmental bodies to notify the public, at least 72 hours in advance of a regular meeting, of each item to be deliberated by the governmental body in the meeting. On page 27 of the 2017 edition Texas Open Meetings Handbook published by the Office of the Attorney General tells us that “if the notices posted for a governmental body’s meetings consistently distinguish between subjects for public deliberation and subjects for executive session deliberation, an abrupt departure from this practice may raise a question as to the adequacy of the notice. Also cited in the handbook are court rulings requiring that agenda items be described in enough detail to give the public a general idea as to the subject matter of each item on the agenda.
As to the order in which items are laid out for discussion in a meeting, the handbook is silent. However, Robert’s Rules of Order drives home the necessity for a deliberative body to be consistent in the conduct of its meetings. Also, attorneys general of Texas have opined that it is not advisable for a governmental body to conduct its meetings in ways that confuse the public.
If the board’s taking items seemingly at random is causing problems, adversely affected parties may exercise their civic duty and complain through official channels. And, short of term-limiting the officials in question at the ballot box on Election Day, you have your editorial pen and your readers are welcome submit their opinions and letters to the editor to nudge a governmental body to adjust its practices.
Q: What’s the procedure for publishing legal notices about sales of abandoned vehicles? And what is the format?
A: This kind of ad normally appear in the classified section of a newspaper. You can search http://texaslegalnotices.com/ and find examples published by your fellow Texas Press Association members.
Now, let’s read Transportation Code Chapter 683, Subchapter C, titled Vehicle Abandoned in Storage Facility. Under that, you will find Sec. 683.031 titled “Garagekeeper’s Duty: Abandoned Motor Vehicles” and scroll down to this paragraph: (b) If notice sent under Subsection (a)(1) is returned unclaimed by the post office, substituted notice is sufficient if published in one newspaper of general circulation in the area where the vehicle was left.
Q: With 2018 elections around the corner, refresh my memory on what you have to charge for political ad rates, and if someone pays for a political ad, do you have to reveal who paid for it?
A: See Election Code Sec. 255.002, titled “Rates for Political Advertising,” and find paragraph (d), which says that discounts offered by a newspaper or magazine to its commercial advertisers shall be offered on equal terms to purchasers of political advertising from the newspaper or magazine.
Also, please review the Texas Ethics Commission publication, Political Advertising: What You Need to Know, at this link: https://www.ethics.state.tx.us/guides/Gpolad.pdf
Q: Is a preliminary autopsy a matter of public record?
A: Forensic labs wouldn’t normally release autopsy information that if made public might interfere with a prosecution while the matter is under investigation. Still, it would be normal a newspaper to make a public information request and to get the denial in writing, or potentially receive a redacted copy of a preliminary report.
This Texas Attorney General opinion, while not an exact match to your question, says an autopsy report in custody of a justice of the peace is available for inspection under Government Code Sec. 27.004. That section of law pertains to records and other property held by justices of the peace and their predecessors in office: