Conflicts of Interest
The Texas Conflicts of Interest Law, V.T.C.A., and Local Government Code Section 1711 et seq., aimed at local officials’ conflict of interest was passed in 1983. Under the measure, if a local official (or his/her close relative) stands to gain a financial benefit from a matter pending before a public agency upon which the official serves, the person must publicly disclose his/her interest in such matters and then abstain from voting on it.
The Texas Conflicts of Interest Law pertains only to the decision-making boards identified in this handbook.
- "Local public official’ means a member of the governing body or another officer, whether elected, appointed, paid, or unpaid, of any district (including a school district), county, municipality, precinct, central appraisal district, transit authority, or district, or other local government entity who exercises responsibilities beyond those that are advisory in nature. (Note: Persons who exercise “responsibilities beyond those that are advisory in nature” would include, for example, the members of the Planning and Zoning Commission or the Zoning Board of Adjustments.
- "Business entity” means a sole proprietorship, partnership, firm, corporation, holding company, joint-stock company, receivership, trust, or any other entity recognized by law.
Substantial Interest in Business Entity
- For purposes of this chapter, a person has a substantial interest in a business entity if:
- the interest ownership of 10 percent or more of the voting stock or shares of the business entity or ownership of $2,500 or more of the fair market value of the business entity; or
- funds received by the person from the business entity exceed 10% of the person’s gross income for the previous year.
- A person has substantial interest in real property if the interest is an equitable or legal ownership with a fair market value of $2,500 or more.
- A local public official is considered to have a substantial interest under this section if a person related to the official within the second degree by consanguinity of affinity has a substantial interest under this section.
Prohibited Acts & Penalty
- Except as provided by Section 1715 or 1716, a local public official commits an offense if the official knowingly:
- participates in a vote or decision on a matter involving a business entity in which the official has a substantial interest if it is reasonably foreseeable that an action on the matter would confer an economic benefit on the business entity: or
- acts surety for a business entity that has work, business, or a contract with the governmental entity; or
- acts as surety on any official bond requirement of an officer of the governmental entity.
- An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.
- If a local public official has a substantial interest in a business entity that would be peculiarly affected by an official action taken by the governing body, the official shall file, before a vote or decision on the matter, an affidavit starting the nature and extent of the interest and shall abstain from further participation in the matter.
- The affidavit must be filed with the official record keeper of the governmental entity.
The governing body of a governmental entity may contract for the purchase of services of personal property with a business entity in which a member of the governing, body has a substantial interest if the business entity is the only business entity that:
- provides the needed service or product within the jurisdiction of the government entity;
- bids on the contract.
Voting on Budget
- The governing body of a governmental entity shall take a separate vote on any budget item specifically dedicated to a contract with a business entity in which a member of the governing body has a substantial interest.
- The affected member may not participate in the separate vote, but may vote on a final budget if;
- The member has complied with this chapter, and
- The matter in which the member is concerned has been resolved.
No Limitation on Common Law Remedies
- The penalties and remedies provided by this chapter does not limit common law remedies in tort, contract, or equity, including a suit for damages, injunction, or mandamus.
- The finding by a court of a violation under this chapter does not render an action of the governing body void unless the measure that was the subject of a action involving a conflict of interest would not have passed the governing body without the vote of the person who violated the chapter.
Open Meetings Act
Texas Government Code, Chapter 551 is commonly referred to as the Texas Open Meeting Act. This article generally requires that every meeting of a governmental body must be open to the public and enumerates some exceptions to the requirement.
- Meeting means a deliberation between a quorum of a governmental body, or between a quorum of a governmental body and another person, during which public business or public policy over which the governmental body has supervision or control is discussed or considered during which the governmental body takes formal action.
- Governmental Body means every City Council in the State, and every deliberative body having rule or quasi-judicial power and classified as a department, agency, or political subdivision of a city.
- Deliberation means a verbal exchange during a meeting between a quorum of a governmental body, or between a quorum of a governmental body and another person, concerning an issue within the jurisdiction of the governmental body or any public business.
A Posted Notice is required of a meeting of a City governmental body. Written notice of the date, hour, place, and subject of each meeting must be posted on a public bulletin board, located at a place convenient to the public in the City Hall for at least 72 hours preceding the scheduled time of the meeting. Only those matters posted can be discussed and acted on by the governmental body.
Minutes are required to be prepared or a tape recording made of each open meeting.
The Texas Open Meetings Act does allow for closed or executive meetings on a few limited subjects. Closed meetings are allowed to discuss pending litigation, certain personnel matters, and the lease or acquisition of land. However, before a closed meeting can be held, a quorum of the governmental body must convene in an open meeting and the presiding officer publicly announce that a closed meeting will be held and identify the sections of the Open Meeting Act authorizing the closed meeting.
No final action, decision, or vote can be made in a closed meeting. All final actions, decisions, and votes must be made in open meetings. Further, the governmental body is required to keep a certified agenda of the matters discussed in the closed meeting and a record of any further action taken. The presiding officer must be made in open meetings. Further, the governmental body is required to keep a certified agenda of the matters discussed in the closed meeting and a record of any further action taken. The presiding officer must include an announcement at the beginning and end of the closed meeting indicating the time and place, and must certify that the agenda is a true and correct record of the proceedings. In lieu of maintaining a certified agenda, a tape recording of the closed meeting may be made. It is a misdemeanor offense to participate in a closed meeting where a certified agenda or tape recording is not kept. It is also a misdemeanor offense for any individual to make public such certified agenda or tape recordings unless directed by a court order. These certified agendas or tape recordings must be preserved for at least 2 years.
A fine of not less than $100 not more than $500 or imprisonment in the County jail for not less than 1 month nor more than 6 months, or both fine and imprisonment, can be imposed for violating the provisions of the Open Meetings Act or conspiring to circumvent the provisions of the Open Meetings Act by meeting in a number less than a quorum for the purposes of secret deliberations.
Public Information Act
Texas Government Code, Chapter 552 is commonly referred to as the Texas Public Information Act. The Public Information Act applies to virtually all local and state governmental bodies, “private” entities that are supported by or that expend public funds and/or information held by “private” entities in the constructive possession of governmental bodies.
All information held by a governmental body must be released unless the information falls within one of the acts specific exceptions to disclosure. Virtually all information in the physical possession of a governmental body is subject to the act.
A fine of not less than $25 or more than $4,000 or confinement in County jail for not less than 3 days or more than 3 months, or both fine and confinement, can be imposed for violating the provisions of the Public Information Act.
A request for information that is received by a Board or Commission under the Public Information Act, should immediately file the written request to both the City Attorney and City Manager. The act requires that a Governmental body must request a decision from the Attorney General, within 10 calendar days after the date of receipt of request, prior to withholding information.
A member of a Board, Commission or Committee that has a regular monthly or semi-monthly meeting shall be expected to maintain a suitable attendance record. It is important to keep in mind that your attendance is very important to the Board, Commission, or Committee you are serving on and the City Council appointed you for your expertise. Certain Boards, Commissions, or Committees may have attendance policies established by Ordinance or Statute. However, because your attendance is important, the City Council has also established the following attendance policy: If a board member is absent from more than 25% of the duly called meetings in any period of 12 consecutive months or absent from more than 2 duly called meetings in any period of 12 consecutive months, whichever is greater, for any reason, other than a medical reason which prevents the member’s attendance, will be subject to removal by City Council. The term “duly called meetings” includes all meetings of the board and all meetings of subcommittees of the board on which the board member serves. The Secretary of the Board, Commission or Committee is responsible for keeping track of the member’s attendance. The Secretary shall provide the La Porte’s City Council, through the City Secretary’s Office, with a quarterly attendance report.
Working with City Staff
Each Board, Commission or Committee member is encouraged to communicate openly with the City Staff. Suggestions, opportunities, and constructive criticism are necessary for a proper relationship with the staff. However, each Board, Commission or Committee member is strongly encouraged to communicate with the appropriate department director assigned to that Board, Commission, Committee, or with the City Manager’s Office. Contact with operational type people or individuals below the department director level is discouraged. The Director of Planning working with the Planning and Zoning Commission members and the Director of Public Works communicating with the Airport Advisory Board are examples of these relationships.
Reporting to the City Council
City Council is highly dependent on each Board, Commission, or Committee to make recommendations and offer possible solutions to City projects and opportunities. All Boards, Commissions or Committee recommendations should be in a formal or written form. Of course, each Board, Commission or Committee member may from time to time want to visit informally with a Council member. This 1-on-1 informal communications is necessary, but to protect the integrity of the organization, the complete Council should be addressed in terms of the majority of the members of the Board, Commission or Committee.