Are there any updates on the use of Coronavirus Relief Fund
(CRF) money for public health and safety payroll costs substantially
dedicated to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes. Updating our September 22nd email, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of
Inspector General (OIG) has posted its revised CRF reporting and recordkeeping guidance on the
Treasury OIG webpage. See specifically Questions 63, 70, 71, and 72.
OIG’s new guidance returns back to letting governments presume
that payroll expenses for public health and safety employees are for services
that are “substantially dedicated” to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19
public health emergency, and therefore allows governmental entities to use
CRF funds for those purposes unless the entity’s chief executive determines
that specific circumstances indicate otherwise. Payroll costs presumed to be
permissible include payroll that was accounted for in the FY2020 budget and
incurred prior to December 31, 2020. While governmental recipients of CRF
money must make certain financial records available to OIG upon request to
generally support payroll reimbursement using CRF revenue, the reporting and
recordkeeping requirements are not for the purpose of determining whether
public health and safety payroll is “substantially dedicated” to mitigating
The North Texas law firm of Carrington Coleman, which advises
governmental entities on the use of CRF funds, prepared this memo going into more detail on the revised OIG
What recent steps have been taken regarding eviction
On Friday, September 25, Governor Abbott announced the allocation of $171 million of federal CARES
Act funding for rental assistance and the Texas Eviction Diversion Program.
According to the press release, the funding will “allow the Supreme Court of
Texas, the Office of Court Administration, and the Texas Department of
Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) to work in partnership with local
governments and non-profits and the newly created Texas Eviction Diversion
Program to help renters stay in their homes, catch up on missed rental
payments, and avoid an eviction on their records.”
At the moment, there are few details on the process for
renters to access these funds. However, a spokesperson for the Texas
Department of Housing and Community Affairs has indicated that cities, counties, and nonprofits will
manage the application process. The state expects funding to be available in
late 2020 or early 2021. Some preliminary information on the Texas Eviction Diversion
Program is available on the Texas Courts’ website.
May we still have our city council meetings in a fully remote
Yes. In March 2020, the governor suspended various parts of the Open Meetings Act, as
detailed in a letter to the Office of the Attorney General. Those
suspensions are still in place. The suspension order permits meetings to
occur in a fully remote setting, provided certain requirements are met.
The governor’s order reflects three overarching goals for
-offer the public, city employees, and members of the city
council the opportunity to engage in self isolation or social distancing as
recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the State of Texas;
-ensure the public is able to hear open deliberations by the
city council; and
-allow the public to interact with the city council during any
public comment period or to otherwise address the city council.
In attempting to meet these goals, TML has received frequent
questions from city officials about: (1) how best to provide for public
interaction with the city council; and (2) how to plan for and address
How should a city allow the public to interact with the city
council during a public comment period or otherwise address the city council
during a remote meeting?
In tackling this issue, it is important to understand the
details of the governor’s order. Typically, Government Code Section 551.007(b) requires your city council to allow each
member of the public who desires to address the body regarding an item on an
agenda to address the body regarding the item at the meeting before or during
the body's consideration of the item. The governor’s order suspends this
requirement, but requires that a city “offer alternative methods of
communicating” with city officials. The governor’s order does not impact the
city council’s ability to have reasonable rules to manage public comment.
A quick online search reveals myriad ways that governmental
bodies allow for public interaction and comment during a remote meeting. For
instance, some cities engage in the following practices:
-Provide a dedicated voicemail or email where the public may
submit comments. These comments may be read or played aloud at the meeting,
or simply provided to the city council for review prior to the meeting.
-Allow the public to address the city council by phone during
the meeting. This is typically achieved by requiring an individual to provide
a contact phone number prior to the meeting that can be used by the presiding
officer to call the individual.
-Utilize videoconference software that offers a “moderator”
function, giving the presiding officer the ability to unmute a registered
speaker to deliver live comments.
A recent meeting notice of the Texas Commission of
Licensing and Regulation exemplifies some of these practices.
The variety of methods used by cities to interact with the
public during remote meetings is likely a function of both the assortment of
technologies used to hold meetings and differing legal interpretations of the
governor’s suspension order.
Each city should consult its own legal counsel in making a
final decision about how best to address this issue.
How does our city council plan for and respond to technical
problems that impact the public’s ability to hear or interact with the city
council at a remote meeting?
Among other things, the governor’s order requires the notice of a remote meeting
to include a toll-free dial-in number or a free-of-charge videoconference
link that provides two-way communication for members of the public to both
hear the meeting and address the governmental body. Other specifics about the
quality of video and audio have been suspended.
If a technical problem prohibits the public from hearing the
meeting or interacting with the city council at the meeting, the city council
may (depending on the circumstances) want to: (1) temporarily recess the
meeting to address the problem; (2) redirect the public to an alternative
means of hearing the meeting and/or interacting with the city council; (3)
adjourn and reconvene the following regular business day; or (4) cancel the
It may be advisable to include relevant details about what the
public should do in case of a technical problem in the meeting notice itself.
Each city should consult its own legal counsel in making a final decision
about how best to address this issue.
Where can I find additional information about meetings?
You will find a compilation of TML’s daily COVID-19 updates on
the subject of meetings here.
You may contact the attorney general’s office with questions about the
interpretation of the governor’s suspension order by telephone at (888)
672-6787 or via email at TOMA@oag.texas.gov.