Q: Our general law city council does not meet on a weekly or even a monthly basis. So I asked the city secretary how bills get approved for payment. I was told that each councilperson comes to city hall and looks through the bills and gives the okay. I think the council should meet, as a body, in an open meeting, even if it’s just to approve the bills. I wrote a letter to the city administrator and to the mayor regarding this trend of not meeting. What do you think about it?
A: The Texas Open Meetings Act says the officers of a governmental body must meet in order to conduct business. You will find guidance about that on page 1 of the Attorney General’s Texas Open Meetings Act Handbook, see what it says under paragraph B, titled, “A Governmental Body Must Hold a Meeting to Exercise its Powers.”
Also, there is a 1999 Texas Attorney General Opinion, JC-0028, that says the relevant Texas law, Chapter 22 of Local Government Code (Aldermanic Form of Government in Type A General-Law Municipality), does not require a Type A or B General Law City to meet on a certain schedule. Here’s a link to the opinion:
Now, I suppose a reporter acting in the public interest might try to get input from the bank and a few local creditors. Does it matter to them how the city approves checks? Whether their answers are yes or no, you would have openings to ask more expansive questions, such as: “Why?” Say a payment is made in error or in the wrong amount: What is the process? And, is the process in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles? It might help to bring your questions to a certified public accountant that is not employed by a governmental body.
Q: The county judge comes up for re-election this year. As I understand, the county judge has to be an attorney unless he is grandfathered in. Our problem is that there is only one licensed attorney in the county and that person is the county attorney. What can be done in a case like this? The filing deadline is fast approaching.
A: I posed a generic question to an Internet search engine in hopes of finding an answer for you. One of the hits produced by the search engine took me to a public posting by Midland County, and here is the posted language:
“Although a Judge must be well-informed of the law, there is no requirement for them to have a legal degree or license to practice in the capacity of County Judge. However, the County Judge is required to earn sixteen continuing education credits annually related to their duties; and, retrieve and practice legislative updates and mandates within their responsibilities of the position.”
That posting was enlightening. So, next, because the office of county judge is a constitutional office, I checked the Texas Constitution and at http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/CN/htm/CN.5.htm#5.15, and here is the language:
Sec. 15. COUNTY COURT; COUNTY JUDGE. There shall be established in each county in this State a County Court, which shall be a court of record; and there shall be elected in each county, by the qualified voters, a County Judge, who shall be well informed in the law of the State; shall be a conservator of the peace, and shall hold his office for four years, and until his successor shall be elected and qualified. He shall receive as compensation for his services such fees and perquisites as may be prescribed by law. (Amended Nov. 2, 1954.)
Q: There’s a homeland security-type investigation going on in town and I would like to know enough to get details in the newspaper. How does one get information from federal agencies?
A: You might find it tough to get answers and information about a pending investigation from any law enforcement organization, whether it’s federal, state or local. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t ask for it.
So, here’s a link to information that I recommend you read before you begin your quest:
And within that link, please see:
And at that link, you will find this set of questions and answers:
Where do I send a FOIA request?
Each federal agency handles its own records in response to requests. There are currently one hundred agencies subject to the FOIA with several hundred offices that process FOIA requests. Your request will receive the quickest possible response if it is addressed directly to the FOIA office of the agency or agency component that you believe has the records you are seeking. See the list of federal agencies for the individual contact information for each agency.
Is there a special form I have to use to make a FOIA request?
There is no specific form that must be used to make a request.
What can I ask for under the FOIA?
A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. You can also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records (for example, printed or electronic form). The FOIA does not require agencies to create new records or to conduct research, analyze data, or answer questions when responding to requests.