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Definitions and Legal Liability

Boards and Commissions Defined

La Porte has two types of Boards and Commissions:  ADVISORY AND DECISION-MAKING.  Additionally, there are Boards whose membership is appointed by the City Council and are separate legal entities.  The listing of each committee in this manual provides general description of each type of Board and Commission, as well as any eligibility requirements as defined by City Ordinance.

Advisory Commissions and Boards. Advise the La Porte City Council on public policy.  They play a very important role in city government by providing the City Council with creative ideas, feedback from the community, and by serving as a sounding board for proposed public policy.

It is important to remember that the role of Advisory Commissions is not to set public policy, but to advise the City Council.

 
Name Members Term (Years) Exp. Members / Year
Airport Advisory Board

   5 Regular 
   2 Advisory

3
-
2/3
-
       
Animal Shelter Advisory Committee 5 - -
       
Chapter 172 Employee Retiree And
Insurance Benefits Committee
9 - 2/3
       
Drainage And Flooding Committee

   4 Regular
   1 Alternate

-
 
-
 
       
Main Street Advisory Board 11 3 4
       
Fiscal Affairs Committee

   3 Regular
   2 Alternate

-
 
-
 
       

Decision-Making Boards and Commissions are “quasi-judicial” and are governed by state law.  Decision Making Boards are set or enforce public policy and are potentially subject to review by the courts.  Decision-Making Boards also advise the City Council on public policy.  Members serving on Decision-Making boards should take an oath of office and are subject to the open meeting, open records, and ethics laws.


Name Members Term (Years) Exp. Members / Year
Planning & Zoning Commission

   7 Regular 
   2 Advisory

3 years
3 years
3
3
       
Zoning Board of Adjustment

   5 Regular 
   2 Advisory

2 years
2 years
2
2
       
Civil Service Commission
   3 Regular
3 years 1
       
Fire Code Review Committee 9 3 3/6
       
Fire Fighters Pension Board 8 2 4
       
Building Codes Appeals Board 7 3 Staggered
       
La Porte Health Authority 2 3 2
       

Separate Legal Entities.Some Boards and Commissions are separate entities, corporations, or political bodies from the City; although the City may appoint the memberships to these Boards and Commissions.  Boards and Commissions are usually established under the provisions of a state statute that will set forth the functions, duties, responsibilities, and limitations of the corporation or political body. 

The Boards and Commissions that are separate entities from the City, and whose memberships are appointed by the City Council are listed below.

Name Members Term (Years) Exp. Members / Year

Harris County Appraisal District 
Representative

1 2 -
       
La Porte Area Water Authority 5 2 years 2
       
La Porte Development Corporation 7 2 years 3/4
       
La Porte Reinvestment Zone #1 9 2 4/5
       
La Porte Redevelopment Authority 9 2 4/5
       
Southeast Texas Housing Finance 
Corporation Board
1 3 1
       

The members just appointed to these Boards and Commissions oversee the operation of an organization as a Board of Directors would a corporation.  The City of La Porte has no or little authority over members except for their appointment; and therefore, the City has limited liability for their actions.  Board members will find that the organization to which they have been appointed will provide much of the information needed.  The state statute establishing the organization, the articles of incorporation and the bylaws of the organization will provide a great deal of information.

Ad Hoc Committees and City Representatives.  Appointed by City Council to investigate a particular end or purpose or represent the City at meetings.  Ad Hoc Committees study and research a specific issue or attend a meeting and report its findings and recommendations to the Council.  It is important to remember that the role of Ad Hoc Committees is not to set public policy but to report its findings and make recommendations to City Council.

Name Members Term (Years) Exp. Members / Year

Alliance Representatives

2 - -
       
Bay Area Houston Economic
Development Representatives
2 - -
       
HGAC Representatives 2 - -
       
National League of Cities 
Delegates
2 - -
       
Texas Municipal League
Delegates
2 - -
       

Census/Redistricting – Council appoints as needed

Comprehensive Plan Review Committee – Council appoints as needed
Appointed Officials are the City Attorney, Assistant City Attorney’s, Municipal Judge, Alternate Judges, Election Judges and Alternate Election Judges.

Legal Liability.  It is important to understand that the actions of members of the various City Boards and Commissions can subject the City to liability and subject the Board or Commission members to personal liability.  Therefore, Board and Commission members are strongly encouraged to consult with the City Attorney anytime they feel their actions, while serving on such Board or Commission, may have some legal consequences.  The law in this area is quite complex and requires a thorough analysis of the law and facts pertaining to each particular situation.

As a general rule, quasi-judicial officers cannot be held personally liable for erroneous acts while honestly exercising the judicial or quasi-judicial functions of their offices.  The Board and Commission members who render decisions are considered quasi-judicial officers.  The problem with stating such a general rule as a proposition of law is that there will always be exceptions to the general rule.  For example, if a court finds that a quasi-judicial offer performs certain functions in excess of his/her authority and such functions were not performed under a good faith assumption that the officer had the authority to act, then the officer will subject himself/herself to personal civil liability.  If a person is damaged by the excessive acts of a quasi-judicial officer, then that officer will have to pay damages to the person harmed.  The aggrieved person can also seek other remedies such as an injunction compelling the officer to perform or refrain from performing a particular act.

Officers of the City can also subject themselves, as well as the City, to liability if they perform their functions in a manner that denies an individual any right that is secured to that individual by the Constitution or a statute.  An example of how this type of liability could arise is if an officer illegally discriminates against an individual.  A City and its officers, as a governmental entity, must treat all individuals or groups equally or in the same manner unless there is a rational basis or a compelling governmental interest to treat someone or some group differently.  Therefore, officers of the City should treat all individuals and groups in the same manner.  If there is a question concerning whether an individual or group can be treated differently, the City Attorney should be consulted.  If an officer illegally discriminates against an individual or group, that individual or group can seek monetary damages from the City and the individual officer for a violation of his rights under the state and federal civil rights statutes.

When members of City Boards and Commissions are acting in good faith and within the bounds allowed by the City ordinances, procedures, the state and federal law, the City will provide a defense for such members to the greatest extent permissible.  However, if a Board or Commission member violates a criminal law while serving in his/her official capacity, the City generally will not provide that member a defense.  The reason for this is if a criminal law was violated, the Board or Commission member was probably acting outside the bounds of his authority.

The above discussion is by no means intended to be comprehensive and complete discussion of legal liabilities to which the City or the Board or Commission member may be subjected.  You are reminded that the City Attorney is available to the City Boards and Commissions and should be consulted on such questions.