Q: The police chief of one of several cities our newspapers cover reported in a public meeting that his officers had issued several hundred citations during a recent month. A county seat city that we also cover has more than double the population of the first city. But its officers issued fewer than half of the number of citations that the smaller city issued during the same period. I want to do a story about this, so I need to find the state law that says revenue from a city’s citations cannot exceed a set percentage of the city’s total revenue for the prior year.
A: Let’s look at Transportation Code Sec. 542.402, titled, “Disposition of Fines.” That section was amended into its current form in 2011, when the Legislature passed House Bill 1517. Paragraph (b) under 542.402 says: In each fiscal year, a municipality having a population of less than 5,000 may retain, from fines collected for violations of this title and from special expenses collected under Article 45.051, Code of Criminal Procedure (“Suspension of Sentence and Deferral of Final Disposition”) in cases in which a violation of this title is alleged, an amount equal to 30 percent of the municipality’s revenue for the preceding fiscal year from all sources, other than federal funds and bond proceeds, as shown by the audit performed under Section 103.001, Local Government Code (“Audit of Municipal Finances”).
After a municipality has retained that amount, the municipality shall send to the comptroller any portion of a fine or a special expense collected that exceeds $1. The audit of municipal finances and any information of this nature that cities send to the comptroller is public information.
Q: A public official was placed under arrest and is in jail. I asked for and received booking information from the county jail log, but when I asked for a copy of the arrest warrant, the court clerk told me she wasn’t sure if she was allowed to release the information, so she withheld it. What can I do?
A: Ask for the information again. You could show the clerk, and if necessary, show whoever she reports to, Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 15.26. Under that section, there is a sentence that says, “The arrest warrant, and any affidavit presented to the magistrate in support of the issuance of the warrant, is public information, and beginning immediately when the warrant is executed the magistrate’s clerk shall make a copy of the warrant and the affidavit available for public inspection in the clerk’s office during normal business hours. A person may request the clerk to provide copies of the warrant and affidavit on payment of the cost of providing the copies.”
The law was passed by an act of the Texas Legislature in 1965. It was amended in 1967 and has been in effect ever since.
Q: What was that publication you cited years ago to help me with my questions about nepotism and conflict of interest? Can I get a copy?
A: You are remembering a publication printed and posted online by the Office of the Attorney General when our state’s current chief executive was serving as attorney general in 2006. It’s out of print and not available on the current attorney general’s website. The title of the publication was “Public Officers: Traps for the Unwary.” It’s 92 pages and has sections --- in addition to nepotism and conflict of interest --- that address dual office holding, automatic resignation, and the Whistleblower Act. The Portal to Texas History, an unmatchable, invaluable resource produced and maintained by the University of North Texas Libraries, has made the “Traps for the Unwary” publication available at https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth577157/.
Q: We have a hospital board in our county that has been going into executive session for a member of the board to read an “attorney report” in regards to a lawsuit they have filed against a former board member. I have read the Texas Open Meetings Act in regards to executive sessions for consultation with an attorney, but I don’t see where it covers the board reading an attorney’s report. Can you clarify whether or not the board can enter executive session if the attorney is not present to discuss the matter?
A: I share your concern over this situation and I think you’re on target. Remember, I am not an attorney and what I tell you is not legal advice, but it seems that what the hospital board is doing is not the same as consulting with their attorney in an executive session, as contemplated in the exception, Government Code Sec. 551.071, Consultations With Attorney. I suggest you contact Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas in Austin at 512-377-1575 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or the FOIFT Hotline, 800-580-6651.