Q: When citizens are gathering petitions to call for a rollback election are there any restrictions on the use of county resources to create materials advocating the county’s position? What about after the rollback election has been called? Can you point me in the right direction for this?
A: You hit the jackpot in terms of a clear answer, thanks to the existence of an online publication produced by the Texas Ethics Commission, “A Short Guide to the Prohibition Against Using Political Subdivision Resources For Political Advertising in Connection with an Election.”
The very first sentence in the document says: “No matter how enthusiastic you are about an election, it is important to remember that the Texas Election Code prohibits the use of political subdivision resources to produce or distribute political advertising in connection with an election.”
The PDF is available at:
Q: Do you know of any new law exempting county commissioners from the requirement to approve the minutes of their meetings?
Our county commissioners court has not approved or made public the minutes of their meetings since March of 2018. I continue to ask about this and am told there is a new law that exempts them from having to officially approve minutes.
A: Minutes of the meetings of Texas governmental bodies are to be available to the public as soon as they are created. Minutes do not have to be approved before they are released. This is according to Texas open government laws and Texas attorney general opinions.
However, Senate Bill 494 by Joan Huffman, R-Houston, passed and took effect Sept. 1. It amends the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act. (TPA and other open government advocates testified in opposition to the bill during committee processes.)
SB 494 allows open government laws to be suspended while a governmental body is dealing with situations such as disasters, emergencies, imminent threats to public health or safety, urgent public necessities, or reasonably unforeseeable situations.
Please see the Senate Research Center bill analysis at this link:
Q: Isn’t a “Notice of Substitute Trustee Sale” supposed to be published in the paper? I can’t find the law. The county put the notice on their website.
A: There is a bulletin-board-style posting requirement in mentioned in Chapter 51 of the state Property Code, titled, Provisions Generally Applicable to Liens.
While that chapter contains no language expressly requiring that the notice of that sort be published in a newspaper, I think we agree that if the county did cause that kind of notice to be published in a newspaper, it would certainly register with a great many more people who would want to be informed about that kind of notice.
Q: What do you know about a new law regarding comments in public meetings? Or just point me in the right direction.
A: Last session the Texas Legislature passed HB 2840 by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Sen. Brian Hughes, R-Mineola, to give the public “increased access to the decision‑making process by providing for public comment before or during the consideration of each item on the meeting agenda.”
The new law requires governmental bodies “to adopt reasonable rules” regarding the public’s right to address the body, including rules that limit the total amount of time that a member of the public may address the body on a given item “before or during” the consideration of the item.
Another provision says a governmental body may not prohibit public criticism of the governmental body.
Q: My county put the public notice about voting machine testing in a newspaper that serves one of the counties that touches ours. I asked why they did that and was told “because it was cheaper.” When I told them they had to publish the notice in their own county, they contacted the Secretary of State’s office and were told that it’s alright to publish the notice in another county as long as they did it in a newspaper that is generally circulated in this county.
A: See Government Code Chapter 2051 titled “Government Documents, Publications and Notices.” Under Sec. 2051.044 titled “Type of Newspaper Required” see this language:The newspaper in which a notice is published must:(1) devote not less than 25 percent of its total column lineage to general interest items;(2) be published at least once each week;(3) be entered as second-class postal matter in the county where published; and(4) have been published regularly and continuously for at least 12 months before the governmental entity or representative publishes notice.(b) A weekly newspaper has been published regularly and continuously under Subsection (a) if the newspaper omits not more than two issues in the 12-month period.
Next, please see Government Code Sec. 2051.046 titled “Notice of County” which says: (a) A notice of a county shall be published in a newspaper published in the county that will publish the notice at or below the legal rate.(b) If no newspaper that will publish the notice at or below the legal rate is published in the county, the notice shall be posted at the door of the county courthouse.