Q: If a city council convenes in open session at city hall and then adjourns, travels to a remote, private, controlled-access site, then conducts an executive session to interview city manager applicants, does the open meetings law allow that?
A: Let’s confine our search for an answer to the handy Texas Attorney General’s 2016 Open Meetings Handbook. The following language appears on page 40 under the header and paragraph, VIII. Open Sessions, A. Conducting the Meeting:
“A meeting may not be convened unless a quorum of the governmental body is present in the meeting room. This requirement applies even if the governmental body plans to go into an executive session immediately after convening. The public is entitled to know which members are present for the executive session and whether there is a quorum. B. Location of the Meeting. The Act requires a meeting of a governmental body to be held in a location accessible to the public. It thus precludes a governmental body from meeting in an inaccessible location.”
Q: We are in receipt of a “Wanted: Bail Jumper” ad from a bail bond company in town. The ad copy submitted for publication includes the photo of an individual identified as the wanted person. Is publishing the photo a common practice? Do we have to publish it?
A: Let’s go back a decade. There’s one Texas Attorney General Opinion, GA-0502 (2007) that suggests legalities relating to bail bond advertising were unsettled at that time. Since then, an online revenue stream has grown around the web posting of digital booking photos of arrestees, or mug shots. The world has changed and limits keep getting pushed. That is not to say the practice of publishing mug shots is a good idea or not, just that it’s become common practice in some venues.
As publisher of your newspaper, you control what goes on your pages. It’s a policy decision for you to make.
Q: A group of residents in our community did a social media posting in opposition to a local bond issue. Without my permission, they used my newspaper’s nameplate and took one sentence out of context from an editorial I wrote that gives the impression that the newspaper was against the bond issue, too. But my main concern is about the unauthorized use of the nameplate. Can anyone, or any group, use my newspaper’s nameplate without my permission?
A: The group should have asked your permission before using an image of your newspaper’s nameplate and the words you wrote and published. Your newspaper’s logo and content are intellectual property and are protected, but you can take extra steps by registering your newspaper’s nameplate or logo as a trademark and registering your newspaper under multiple and collective works. See U.S. Copyright Circular 34.
Q: The animal rescue charity in our county receives funding from the county and city to house stray animals and it’s a fair chunk of their funding. Does the charity’s board have to post meeting notices and have proper meetings with the same rules as cities or school districts? Or can they just meet in private?
A: It depends, even though we know it would be in the public interest for those meetings to have a posted public notice and to accommodate the public. Let’s look at the AG’s 2016 Open Meetings Act Handbook and turn to pp. 15-16, where you will find titles E. Advisory Bodies, and F. Public and Private Entities That Are Not Governmental Bodies.
Under paragraph E, we see that the board must have “ultimate supervision or control over public business or policy” to be subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act. However, if a governmental body that has established an advisory committee routinely adopts or “rubber stamps” the advisory committee’s recommendations, the committee probably will be considered to be a governmental body subject to the Act. Thus, the fact that a committee is called an advisory committee does not necessarily mean it is excepted from the Act.
Under paragraph F, you will find: “Nonprofit corporations established to carry out governmental business generally are not subject to the Act because they are not within the Act’s definition of ‘governmental body.’”
Also see this sentence: “A private entity does not become a governmental body within the Act merely because it receives public funds.”
And this sentence: “A city chamber of commerce, a private entity, is not a governmental body within the Act although it receives public funds.”