San Antonio

Creative public financing may soon be more important than ever

There is likely not a county or municipal official in Texas unaware of the debate underway in Austin related to state efforts to cap local government entities' abilities to raise revenues they need to meet constituent demands. It's too early to say what the legislative outcome is going to be.

The proposal before the legislature would limit how much property taxes could increase to 2.5 percent. If local officials want to raise them higher than that in a given year, the proposal would have to be put before voters for consideration. Existing law already calls for such a vote if proposed property taxes reflect an increase of 8 percent.

When the law leads to unintended consequences

Workers' compensation is not a mandated benefit in Texas. That is one of a few ways in which our state differs from others. At the same time, some employers, including many local municipalities and political subdivisions do carry some form of coverage. The Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool (TMLIRP) is one such provider.

While one of the missions this organization says it fulfills is protecting those who protect us, such as firefighters, police and other government employees, there can be times when things don't go as smoothly as anyone would like. Conflicts between desired policy and legal requirements crop up. The work of anticipating issues and striking an effective balance between competing interests can be difficult, but not impossible.

A mass media glimpse into 1 city government's dynamics

It isn't often that the maneuverings within the halls of a city government make it into the mainstream media. When it does, it is perhaps worth taking time to examine the situation to see if there is something to learn that could help your community avoid unwanted, and some might say unnecessary scrutiny.

The case that brings this to mind is that out of League City, Texas. You may have seen the recent headline announcing that the city has settled a lawsuit filed by a former city manager. The cost was $145,000. The accusation it resolves is the former manager's claim that the city violated his freedom of speech by firing him after he filed an ethics claim against the city's mayor.

Mason's football title rampage confirms Punchers' No. 1 ranking

The dreams of most young Texas football players likely include showing their stuff on the field at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The dream came true late last month for teams from across the state, including the Punchers out of Mason. And the Punchers demonstrated clearly why they own the No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press 2A state poll with a 44-6 win over the fifth-ranked New Deal Lions.

We at Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal & Zech, P.C., take this opportunity to extend our heartiest congratulations to the Punchers and the entire Mason community. You have reason for pride and we are honored to be able to share in it in some small way because of the legal service we are privileged to provide on behalf of the city.

ADA compliance: An ever-changing challenge

Greek mythology tells the tale of Sisyphus; a man who, for eternity, must push a boulder up a hill. Before he ever reaches the top, the rock rolls back down. Today, the term Sisyphean sometimes describes what seems to be never-ending work. Many leaders in Texas local governments might apply it to the task of complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA is a federal law that ensures the privileges of civic life are as accessible to disabled individuals as they are to the general population. And Title II of the law requires state, county and municipal governments to be sure public facilities, programs, or services are accessible to all. You can plan to make accommodations with new projects. Retrofitting existing structures and programs is another story. At times, projects can become points of dispute and court battles.

Every open records request has legal implications

Freedom of information is a foundational tenet of American democracy. The argument goes that transparency about government operations is critical for voters to exercise their electoral rights and responsibilities. At the federal level, the Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to reveal information upon request unless doing so might be detrimental to national interests.

At the state level, Texas has the Public Information Act. It spells out:

  • What kinds of records are subject to disclosure.
  • Deadlines for release of information.
  • Rules controlling public notice about requests received and how they've been handled.
  • What requests require an opinion on response from the Texas Attorney General's Office.

There can be legal risk in adopting policy by ordinance

Words have power. Meanings of words are important. Definitions can vary, however, and that can create interesting legal tangles. As an example, recall the statement in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton, "It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

You can argue about whether Clinton's statement was just so much rationalization. But in the legal profession, practitioners put a lot of stock in precision of language. That may have been what was on display then. And it was again in 2013 when the Texas Supreme Court was asked to make clear what constitutes a "law." Specifically, the question was how to apply the word in the context of the Texas "Whistleblower Act."

Navigating issues within the 'meet-and-confer' labor model

There are different ways Texas municipalities and cities can manage labor relations with local public employees. In this regard, size matters. The larger the community, the greater the possibility that police and firefighting employees have representation by unions and collective bargaining. Most Texas municipalities, though, have populations that allow them to manage these relationships in a less adversarial manner called meet and confer.

The idea behind meet and confer is to allow public employers and dedicated employee groups like those in the emergency response realm to work more cooperatively to:

Getting short-term rental rules right

Need a ride? Pull up your Uber or Lyft app? Need a short-hop vehicle to get you from your office to the nearest mass transit? Look for a shared electric scooter. Add to these forms of online business the applications that support short-term home rentals through outlets like Airbnb and VRBO.

These types of enterprises have proved to be a source of regulatory headaches for cities in recent years. As new businesses come online, the proliferation represents a potential migraine. How should planners and lawmakers respond? If news headlines and legal decisions are any indication, the answer requires judicious study.

Easing city growing pains can be challenging

Texas is big in terms of available land. It's also growing in terms of population. By various counts, the number of people moving into the state rises at a rate of around 1,000 to 1,400 per day. Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that seven of the 15 fastest growing cities in the nation are in the Lone Star State. That means towns and cities of all sizes face varying degrees of pressure to meet rising demand for city amenities.

One of the many things that sets Texas apart from other states is that cities here don't get help from Austin through general state funds or revenue-sharing schemes. One of the key authorities cities enjoy to foster sustainability is the power to annex unincorporated areas. Not only does this allow expansion of city limits, it also increases the tax base to provide revenue to support essential services.

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    2517 North Main Avenue
    San Antonio, TX 78212

    Phone: 210-227-3243
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    Harlingen, TX 78550

    Phone: 956-421-4904
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    Austin, TX 78745

    Phone: 512-279-6431
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