How to Determine Local Government Status

Hopefully I’m not revealing a huge secret when I say a large part of the analysts’ responsibilities involves receiving, reviewing and processing local government compliance paperwork. Considering there are over 10,000 local governments across Texas, it keeps us pretty busy, especially since we end up receiving local government compliance paperwork from entities and departments that are not recognized as local governments. It’s enough to make exasperated and confused local government employees cry, “Well, if we’re not a local government, then what is?! How does TSLAC determine what is a local government and what is not?”

Local Government Status

The Local Government Records Act (LGRA) defines a local government as “a county, including all district and precinct offices of a county, municipality, public school district, appraisal district, or any other special-purpose district or authority” [Local Gov’t Code Sec.201.003(7)]. Question and AnswerSince this definition doesn’t specifically include every single type of special-purpose district or authority, when in doubt TSLAC considers whether the entity has a governing body.

A governing body is “the court, council, board, commission, or other body established or authorized by law to govern the operations of a local government” [Local Gov’t Code Sec. 201.003(6)]. The governing body establishes a records management program for the whole government, including all the offices and divisions that carry out the various functions of the government. Note there is a 1:1 relationship between a governing body and compliance paperwork. If there’s a governing body outside of your organizational structure determining your budget and making executive appointments or hires, you’re probably not a “local government” within the meaning of the LGRA. Essentially, the body that funds you and picks your bosses is also most likely responsible for your records management program and filing compliance paperwork with TSLAC.

Types of Local Governments

Elective Offices

The elected county official of each elective office is considered a governing body and therefore is responsible for establishing a records management program for their office [Local Gov’t Code Sec. 203.005].

This includes the following offices:

Elective OfficesNon-elective County Offices

The Commissioners Court is the governing body for the county and therefore is responsible for establishing the records management program for the entire county [Local Gov’t Code Sec. 203.021]. Each county in Texas is required to submit compliance paperwork to TSLAC in order to manage all the records created and received by non-elective county offices. The county’s records management plan and decisions apply to all non-elective offices and departments of the county.

For example, the county auditor’s position has many responsibilities, including oversight of all financial books and records of all county offices as well as administering the county’s budget. Despite this importance, the county auditor’s office does not submit compliance paperwork for the office. The position is appointed by the district judge(s) of the county for two year terms and thus is not an elective office. [Local Gov’t Code Sec. 84.002]. All of the county auditor’s records are managed by the county’s records management program and retention schedule.

Along the same lines as the county auditor, departments created to carry out the various functions of the county also do not constitute local government status and instead fall under the county’s umbrella. Neither the county health department or the animal shelter nor the parks and recreation department need their own records management plan; they all fall under the county.

Other Local Governments

There are a number of entities besides the county who must be in compliance with the LGRA. Some are defined as local governments by the Act —municipalities, school districts – public and junior college and appraisal districts— while many others fall under the vague “special purpose district or authority” umbrella. To name a few special purpose districts:Types of LG

  • Educational Service Center
  • Emergency Communication District
  • Hospital District/Authority
  • Municipal Utility District
  • Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Water District

Municipalities are similar to counties in that municipalities are made up of many departments and offices that carry out specific municipal functions such as police, utilities, and hospitals. All of these municipal departments fall under the umbrella of the municipality’s records management program and decisions. A common mistake we see is compliance paperwork submitted for the police department to establish its own records management program. While it is perfectly acceptable to identify a records liaison within the police department to handle police records with the appropriate confidentiality and other law enforcement requirements, the police department is not a distinct local government because their budget is controlled by the city council.

To learn more about how to get in compliance with the LGRA, check out our “Compliance 101 for Local Governments”  post for detailed instructions.

If you’re still confused about whether you’re a local government in the eyes of the Local Government Records Act and if you need to submit compliance paperwork to TSLAC, contact your analyst or email SLRM’s main account. We can help make that determination and gray areas are our specialty.

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