Q: My county commissioners court might be stepping over the line in personnel discussions held behind closed doors in executive sessions. What is the Texas Open Meetings Act prohibition on closed-session discussions of classes of employees?
A: This is an excerpt from the Texas Attorney General’s 2018 Texas Open Meetings Handbook, pp. 48-49, under Section 551.074, Personnel Matters. The text you are referring to is in boldface:
Section 551.074 authorizes certain deliberations about officers and employees of the governmental body to be held in executive session:
(a) This chapter does not require a governmental body to conduct an open meeting:
(1) To deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of a public officer or employee; or
(2) To hear a complaint or a charge against an officer or employee.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply if the officer or employee who is the subject of the deliberation or hearing requests a public hearing.
This section permits executive session deliberations concerning an individual officer or employee.
Deliberations about a class of employees, however, must be held in an open session.
For example, when a governmental body discusses salary scales without referring to a specific employee, it must meet in open session. The closed meetings authorized by section 551.074 may deal only with officers and employees of a governmental body; closed deliberations about the selection of an independent contractor are not authorized.
Q: My advertising department received copy for a “want-to-rent” ad from an individual seeking to include their race, religion and familial status in the ad copy. I am familiar with the Fair Housing Act’s list of watchwords for apartment and house rental ads, but are the avoid/caution/acceptable words any different for someone who is looking for a place to rent?
A: Discriminatory language can take many forms and cut in many directions. As you rightly scrutinize every word printed in your newspaper, you may require the ad copy to be limited to words that describe the property desired, such as 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2 car garage, fenced yard. If the submitter balks at that, you might ask yourself whether any ad containing questionable language is worth the risk of publishing it. See the FHA word list at http://www.okpress.com/Websites/okpress/files/Content/366480/fair%20hous...
Q: A local liquor retailer wants to run a series of ads for football season specials. Prices and brands are mentioned in the ad copy. Where can I go for guidance on that? The retailer also wants to advertise raffles as part of his sales campaign. Can you offer any input on that, too?
A: First, let’s check what the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission says at: https://www.tabc.state.tx.us/faq/cooperative_advertising.asp
At that link, you will find this Q&A:
Q: When a retailer publishes weekly specials in the newspaper, is it legal for the retailer to advertise specific brands of alcoholic beverages or include a recipe that calls for a specific brand of alcoholic beverage?
A: Yes, as long as the retailer does not receive a benefit of any kind from the manufacturer or distributor for stating the brand name in the advertisement. The retailer must bear all cost associated with the advertisement. See sections 102.15, 108.05, 108.06 of the Alcoholic Beverage Code.
Second, here’s a link to an alert from the Office of the Texas Attorney General concerning raffles:
You will read that raffles may not be conducted by a for-profit business. Furthermore, raffles may only be conducted by qualified charitable organizations and only under certain conditions, and that even those organizations are prohibited from promoting raffles with paid advertising.
Q: A collection of local high school students’ essays from the early 1940s has come into the newspaper’s possession. I would like to publish the essays. Are there any issues I should be concerned about before proceeding?
A: When a newspaper publisher wants to reprint/publish another’s intellectual property — even a collection of high school students’ essays from 70-plus years ago — merely crediting the author(s) potentially wouldn’t be enough. As part of your due diligence, you should contact the individuals or their heirs and request permission. I realize that it may be impractical or even impossible to do that.
Under the “fair use” doctrine of U.S. copyright law, you may use small/limited amounts of content from an essay, or essays, without permission. See more on the topic at:
Q: Can you help me obtain the list of public notices that local governmental bodies are required to publish in my newspaper when they plan to increase taxes?
A: The Office of the Comptroller has the notice requirements you’re looking for posted at: https://comptroller.texas.gov/taxes/property-tax/truth-in-taxation/notic...
At the bottom of the web page, you will find entity-specific links to: Cities and counties, school districts, small taxing units, water districts and “all other” taxing units.