Q: A prominent member of the community submitted something labeled as a “news report” on a controversial local topic. He asked us to publish it in the news section of our next edition under his byline. It’s not straight reportage — obviously an opinion piece — it’s way too long and we’ve learned it is the work of a ghostwriter who lives in town. My tendency would be not to run it for the aforementioned reasons. Any thoughts?
A: If you’re on deadline and don’t have time to mess with it until next week’s edition, it’s a foregone conclusion. But if you think the piece is worthy of publication and you have the time, you can set conditions under which you might publish it. For example, you could clearly mark it as a guest opinion, you could insist on including a credit line or editor’s note identifying whoever helped write it and you could insist on limiting the length to fit whatever space you have available. Also, you could let your readers know they’ll find more viewpoints on the topic in next week’s edition.
Q: At the last meeting of our local economic development corporation, the executive director advised the board the open meetings law now allows them to interview board candidates in closed session, rather than in open session. To the best of my knowledge, the open meetings law hasn’t been changed to allow them to interview candidates behind closed doors. Can you help me find something authoritative on a situation like this?
A: Let’s check the 2018 edition of Texas Open Meetings. See pp. 57-58, paragraph E, titled “Who May Attend a Closed Meeting” and find the following language:
“Only the members of a governmental body have a right to attend an executive session” and “A governmental body has no authority to admit members of the public to a meeting closed under section 551.074 (the personnel exception) to give input about the public officer or employee being considered at the meeting.”
Furthermore, in 2007 the Texas Attorney General’s Office delivered opinion GA-0511, which includes language that says applicants are not employees.
Q: A subscriber came in to share her agony about a decades-old photo we published because the cutline identifies a child that soon after was taken into the foster system and eventually adopted by a couple who changed her name. I am sure I would not have published the photo had I known it would cause any distress. The reader said she knows that we didn’t mean any harm by publishing the photo and that we couldn’t have foreseen a problem. She said she didn’t want it to ever happen to anyone else. Of course I understand her and I just want to share this with other TPA members.
A: You and fellow editors and publishers risk something like this happening with every edition that contains vintage photos. Fortunately, such occurrences are rare. Thank you for mentioning the Texas Foster Children’s Bill of Rights (Family Code Sec. 263.008). Although the law would not prevent problems like the one you described, it’s good to know that this bill of rights exists, and to remember to approach the treatment of historical (and current) photos with as much care as possible.
Q: I am reporting on a criminal case and I need pre-trial information about the case. The court clerk says she doesn’t have the information so she can’t give me copies, but I know for a fact that the information I am seeking was already released to a television reporter.
A: If the information has already been released, like any other requestor, you should be able to ask the court clerk for copies and receive them in short order.
Next, see Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 28.01, Motions, Pleadings and Exceptions, Pre-Trial. In Section 2 of the article, find this language at the bottom of the paragraph:
“The record made at such pre-trial hearing, the rulings of the court and the exceptions and objections thereto shall become a part of the trial record of the case upon its merits.”
Q: Our county hospital district failed to publish a notice of hearing on a proposal to increase its budget. I asked the district director why not and his response was that the district is not required to do that anymore. That doesn’t sound right to me. Did something change?
A: Your hospital district has its own chapter in the state’s Special District Local Laws Code. Here is what it says under the section titled Notice; Hearing; Adoption of Budget:
(a) The board shall hold a public hearing on the proposed annual budget.
(b) The board shall publish notice of the hearing in a newspaper with general circulation in the district not later than the 10th day before the date of the hearing.
(c) Any district resident is entitled to be present and participate at the hearing.
(d) At the conclusion of the hearing, the board shall adopt a budget by acting on the budget proposed by the district administrator. The board may make any changes in the proposed budget that the board judges to be in the interests of the taxpayers.
(e) The budget is effective only after adoption by the board.