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Questions about reporting on nonprofits

Question: Nederland, Texas, is not unlike many small towns in Texas in that they have an annual heritage festival. That festival is operated via a nonprofit group. Late last year, the head of that group stepped aside after years of service amid speculation that she had stolen funds (somewhere around $300,000 or so). In the

The cost of Texas court records

Question: Are courts (criminal/civil/etc) bound by law to charge newspapers for printed copies of court documents? Our district court clerk says everyone–even the media–must pay a $1 per page for any  material printed for us. Is there a way around this? Answer: Copying costs are set by statute, and they are more expensive for court

Fannin is lone Texas county excepted from public notice requirement

Question: On 7-13-16 Austin Lewter published a blog about public notices and the definition of general circulation newspapers, and stated that there was an exception for one Texas county.  I am wondering if that county is Fannin and how that exception was granted. Answer: Thanks for talking the time with my blog about Newspapers of

Can officials routinely wait 10 days to respond to my records requests?

Question: City officials routinely wait 10 days on all my open records requests, even when those records are easily accessible. Is that a violation of the Texas open records laws? Answer: The Texas Public Information Act (552.221) does indeed give officials 10 days to produce a document “if it is in active use or in

Are inmate health records public?

Question: I interviewed a jail inmate yesterday who claims that deputies broke his ribs in two places when they arrested him on Dec. 16. He said he complained of the pain daily, but they didn’t x-ray him until Jan. 29. Can I get a copy of the x-rays and any related medical documentation provided the

My newspaper’s black isn’t black enough. What do I do?

Question: My black isn’t black enough. That is to say, I wanted to do a fancy-schmancy reverse for my front cover, a film noir look about two detectives who solved a crime, but when the paper came back from the printer the black background was actually quite grayish. I’m told it has something to do

Can I quote a public Facebook post in my story?

Question:  A person posts on a Facebook open forum page he manages about witnessing a fire and how he tried to help. Then stated how the fire department was slow to arrive at the scene. He said he didn't want to be quoted during private messaging, then posts it for everyone to see. Can I

Is my city councilman forbidden by law from talking about executive sessions?

Question: I asked a city councilman what he and the rest of the board discussed in closed-door session (executive session). He said he could not by law comment, that the law prevented him from disclosing what was said. I told him that he could comment and that there was no law preventing him from telling

Is someone’s immigration status public record?

Question: We need to check the immigration status of someone who has been convicted of a crime.  We want to find out if he currently has a green card or if his green card has been revoked as a result of the sentence. How do we find this out? Answer: Immigration status is not public record, even

Can I use a book cover in the newspaper to illustrate a news story?

Q:  We are doing a feature this week on the history of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. (actually pretty interesting… another marketing ploy by corporate giant) Anyway, I am thought I might scan in the cover of a little Golden Book about the flying mammal and use it as my artwork for the story. The

What can I do if a government body regularly goes into unnecessary executive sessions?

Question: Under the Open Meetings Act, what can I do if a government body goes into executive session under a vague “personnel matters” exception every meeting, even if the body is doing other things such as receiving reports or discussing other matters about high-level government employees during this closed session? Answer: First, to be clear,

What do I tell people who say “Advertising doesn’t work”?

Question– Our folks in this town always want to run an ad for one week and expect people to beat their door down. Also, I hear "advertising doesn't work" all the time from many businesses. I am armed with some counter responses, but can you could briefly give me a few extra ideas I could