Q: The filing deadline for candidates in the March 3, 2020 primary election was Dec. 9. When were getting close to the deadline I was working on an article that included information on all candidates who filed to run.
I received word from a credible person that a sheriff’s office employee was going to file to run against the incumbent sheriff, but the candidate wanted to talk to me before I identified him in my news story, which could have been a delay tactic. Candidate filings are public records, correct?
A: Candidate filings belong to the public as soon as submitted and they should be released promptly on request, according to the Texas Public Information Act. This scenario is an example of where having a strict policy in place can help: No special favors to any candidate who says to you something like, “Let’s keep it quiet so I can spring it on the world in your next issue” (which is published after the filing deadline).
If it’s your policy to publicize the names of candidates for public office as soon as they are filed, you may go to press with whatever candidate filings you obtain, and without delay.
Q: I do not want to publish a campaign advertisement that contains language that falsely credits the incumbent for supporting something very important that he did not truly support. He absolutely has not done what he claims he has done in the ad copy. If I did publish this ad in my newspaper, it would be the first time in my career I have ever knowingly published anything that is obviously untrue. Do I have a choice about whether to accept the ad for publication?
A: You do have a choice. You may reject the ad as long as the First Amendment is part of the U.S. Constitution. No person, no organization, no governmental body or agency can force you to print something against your will. The trust you have earned with readers is priceless. Your record of printing the truth and not knowingly publishing false information is the bedrock of your franchise.
Q: What is the law that pertains to a city council member doing contract work for the city? And does it apply if he refuses to be paid for contract work? We might have that going on here so I need to know where I can read more. We’re a Type A General Law city.
A: The Texas Constitution, Government Code and Local Government Code contain language dealing with dual officeholding and conflict of interest. There is a prohibition on a person holding more than one civil office of emolument. The answer to your question likely is intricate, specific, and in need of a lawyer’s eye, so it would be worthwhile to visit with your city attorney about those things.
While looking for information on your question, I found Texas Attorney General Opinion JM-333, which may or may not be relevant. In the summary paragraph of this 1985 Jim Mattox opinion, it says, “A municipal judge holds a civil office of emolument even though he refuses to accept the compensation attached to his office. Article XVI Section 40 of the Texas Constitution prohibits a municipal judge who qualifies for the position of city auditor from continuing to serve as municipal judge.”
Q: On my desk is one of those fill-in-the-blank(s), boilerplate public notices from our city. The typist could have done a better job of keeping the filled-in information on or slightly above the blank spaces on the form. We try to be fastidious about our presentation, from cover to cover. We could neaten up this notice. What if I offer to do that?
A: I suppose your readers would recognize that the typography is the city’s and not yours.
If the city wants the notice to run as-is, you can do that for them by creating a PDF. Looks like you could float the image into a two- or three-column space, judging by the size and shape of it.
If the city wants you to typeset it, that’s fine, too. It’s a good idea to keep the type size normal for your readers, that is, not so small that they have trouble reading it.
Also, it might save you some trouble if you have the city proof the ad before it goes to press, especially if you reset the ad.