Q: Our city police department has a new employee working at the desk where I routinely go to get arrest reports and other public information. The employee, the police department’s officer for public information, is rejecting my requests for arrest reports. What can be done to improve this situation?
A: You could offer to show the officer for public information or the person’s supervisor Texas Public Information Act Handbook 2018, available at texasattorneygeneral.gov. Scroll to pp. 19-20 and find the requirement for prompt production of public information.
Next, under “Limitations on Scope of Section 552.108” on pp. 92-93 is a list of types of arrest report information that are public information. The list is based on a landmark court case, Houston Chronicle Publishing v. City of Houston, and Texas Attorney General Open Records Decision 45 (1976) by John Hill.
Now, as stated on page 21 of the handbook: The officer for public information must “promptly” produce public information in response to an open records request. “Promptly” means that a governmental body may take a reasonable amount of time to produce the information, but may not delay. It is a common misconception that a governmental body may wait ten business days before releasing the information. In fact, as discussed above, the requirement is to produce information “promptly.” What constitutes a reasonable amount of time depends on the facts in each case. The volume of information requested is highly relevant to what constitutes a reasonable period of time.
If the officer for public information tells you the information you are seeking is in “active use” and chooses not to release it, the police department is required to inform you in writing that the document is in active use, per the Texas Public Information Act, Government Code Subsection 552.221(c), which states:
“If the requested information is unavailable at the time of the request to examine because it is in active use or in storage, the officer for public information shall certify this fact in writing to the requestor and set a date and hour within a reasonable time when the information will be available for inspection or duplication.”
Also, the fact that a document has not been formally approved for release does not mean it is in active use.
Q: It is now less than a week from the Nov. 6 election. I received ad copy from a candidate who did not use the word “for” between his name and the name of the office he is seeking. What is the law that governs situations like this and what would happen if we accidentally published a paid political advertisement that did not have the word “for” where it belongs?
A: Let’s look at Election Code and pay close attention to the word “knowingly” where it appears in the text under Sec. 255.006, titled, MISLEADING USE OF OFFICE TITLE:
(a) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly enters into a contract or other agreement to print, publish, or broadcast political advertising with the intent to represent to an ordinary and prudent person that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold at the time the agreement is made.
(b) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly represents in a campaign communication that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold at the time the representation is made.
(c) For purposes of this section, a person represents that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold if:
(1) the candidate does not hold the office that the candidate seeks; and
(2) the political advertising or campaign communication states the public office sought but does not include the word “for” in a type size that is at least one-half the type size used for the name of the office to clarify that the candidate does not hold that office.
(d) A person other than an officeholder commits an offense if the person knowingly uses a representation of the state seal in political advertising.
(e) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
Q: Our school district’s financial director is resigning. Our school board called a special meeting to acknowledge the resignation and then go into executive session to discuss the position, citing Government Code Sec. 551.074, the Texas Open Meeting Act’s personnel exception.
The superintendent said the executive session would be for a general discussion and not about a specific candidate. 551.074 states: “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.” The only example the handbook uses, though, is in reference to an employee being allowed to request a public hearing on a disciplinary matter.
I think they are going to hang their hat on the fact that it’s an individual officer and the future of that officer’s position, but I’d counter that the discussion is about a class — even though it’s only one person — because they are not discussing a specific candidate or candidates. Can you point me to any additional information I can use to bolster my argument?
A: If the superintendent and trustees plan to talk only about the position, not about a person, such a discussion arguably would not square with the intent of 551.074. So, how about this question in response to your question: If the superintendent and trustees want to compose a list of qualities and credentials that an ideal candidate would have, why not talk about it in open session?
Q: Should I be concerned about using images that are posted on social media or on the web?
A: Your question is important. The answer is yes: Be concerned about any image you intend to publish in any medium if the image was not created by you or your employees. Read about U.S. Copyright and Fair Use at copyright.gov. Find more in the help centers and support areas of Google, Facebook, Twitter and others.