Q: Our school district board of trustees hired a search firm to look for a new superintendent. Our reporter feels like they have a plan mapped out that will keep the public out of the loop as far as naming possible candidates for the job. How can we get the names of the finalists, and what's the definition of finalists? Are they candidates who are interviewed more than once or candidates who interview in person? Can the district put us off and name only one finalist, the person who gets the job?
A: School districts may pay a search firm to find a sole finalist. Many choose the Texas Association of School Boards to conduct the search through its Executive Search Services. The interview and selection process needs to be completed and the name of a finalist or finalists must be made public — "at least 21 days before the date of the meeting at which a final action or vote is to be taken on the employment of the person" — as required by the Texas Public Information Act, Government Code Section 552.126: Confidentiality of Name of Applicant for Superintendent of Public School District.
There is no definition of "finalist" in the law. Arguably, 552.126 is more about protecting applicants' identifying information than informing the public.
Q: One of the members of our local water district board of directors resigned without notice. Can the board act on its own by appointing a former member of the board to fill the open post or should candidates to fill that slot be on the upcoming election ballot?
A: Water Code Chapter 49, Provisions Applicable to All Districts, sets forth procedures for filling vacancies that occur on a board. This is verbatim:
Sec. 49.105. VACANCIES. (a) Except as otherwise provided in this code, a vacancy on the board and in other offices shall be filled for the unexpired term by appointment of the board not later than the 60th day after the date the vacancy occurs.
(b) If the board has not filled a vacancy by appointment before the 61st day after the date the vacancy occurs, a petition, signed by more than 10 percent of the registered voters of the district, requesting the board to fill the vacancy by appointment may be presented to the board.
(c) If the number of directors is reduced to fewer than a majority or if a vacancy continues beyond the 90th day after the date the vacancy occurs, the vacancy or vacancies may be filled by appointment by the commission if the district is required by Section 49.181 to obtain commission approval of its bonds or by the county commissioners court if the district was created by the county commissioners court, regardless of whether a petition has been presented to the board under Subsection (b). An appointed director shall serve for the unexpired term of the director he or she is replacing.
(d) In the event of a failure to elect one or more members of the board of a district resulting from the absence of, or failure to vote by, the qualified voters in an election held by the district, the current members of the board or temporary board holding the positions not filled at such election shall be deemed to have been elected and shall serve an additional term of office, or, in the case of a temporary board member deemed elected under this subsection, the initial term of office.
Q: A police officer asked me last night if I would publish an arrest report regarding a 14-year-old boy. The kid's really a piece of work. I am a little foggy on whether this a matter of law or editorial choice.
A: You'll find a good writeup on this topic (juveniles involved in crime) in University of Houston journalism professor David McHam's "Law and the Media in Texas" under the Publications tab on the Texas Press website. To read more, visit http://texaspress.com/index.php/publications/law-media/716-law-a-the-media-in-texas--police-news-pitfalls.