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Austin
512-279-6431
Harlingen
956-421-4904
San Antonio
210-227-3243

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.

Government social media accounts must achieve impossible balance

Most government agencies have some form of social media accounts and are expected to communicate regularly with their local online audience. The norms of social media dictate posts should be entertaining, informative, genuine and provide transparency – all in real time. Often many employees are running one account and do so without an editor or a review process to approve posts.

The public’s expectations of social media accounts are clear, but the crux of the situation is that the government is the exact entity whose actions are controlled by the First Amendment. When a specific agency of government is acting as an employer, things can get dicey when it comes to employee free speech.

Online convenience is the future, but laws cannot be forgotten

Most companies handle as much of their customer interactions online as possible. It has become entirely normal to us. From paying bills with an app to shopping online, to discussing complaints through chat bots – this is the way of the future.

Recently, Vote.org sought to make voter registration as simple as possible by using online outlets. This nonpartisan group’s mission is to make voting as simple as possible through technology. Their site seems to do just that, claiming “it takes less than two minutes to register.”

Preparing to report campaign finances after an election

As election season wraps up within the next few weeks, Texas candidates and political committees will once again prepare records of their campaign finances. Throughout your campaign, you must frequently submit a report to the Federal Election Commission, so take a moment to review the requirements online.

Identifying A Conflict Of Interest As A Public Official

Imagine the San Antonio city council is set to vote on a new zoning regulation that is anticipated to raise the property value of small businesses along the River Walk. Ray Smith is a city councilman who is considering voting in favor of the new regulation. While neither he nor his wife owns a small business on the River Walk, their son-in-law recently inherited a store that would be impacted by the new regulation.

Even though the councilman himself will not benefit financially from the decision, his son-in-law's business poses a conflict of interest. This is a fictitious example of how a public official can have a conflict of interest regarding a business entity or real property by the first degree of affinity.

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    San Antonio Office
    2517 North Main Avenue
    San Antonio, TX 78212

    Phone: 210-227-3243
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    Harlingen Office
    701 East Harrison
    Suite 100
    Harlingen, TX 78550

    Phone: 956-421-4904
    Harlingen Law Office Map

    Austin Office
    2500 W. William Cannon
    Suite 609
    Austin, TX 78745

    Phone: 512-279-6431
    Map & Directions

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