This webpage addresses a variety of topics related to a County Historical Commission's (CHC) organizational structure. Related material can be found by using the web links provided at the bottom of this page.
We strongly suggest that CHCs and county officials read this memo from attorney, David B. Brooks, clarifying frequently asked questions about CHCs, addressing topics like, the validity of bylaws, CHC fundraising, private CHC bank accounts, and ultimate oversight of the CHC.
A CHC is required by statute to meet at least four times per year but may meet as often as the commission determines appropriate. When determining the frequency and locations of meetings, consider the following:
- Requirements for CHC meetings to conform with Open Meetings Act (see next section for more info);
- Location of commission members and distance from each other;
- Providing consistency with meeting location/days/times;
- If meeting location/days/times vary, providing sufficient notice so appointees plan accordingly to attend;
- Types of meetings held and length of time allotted for them; and
- Activities being carried out by the commission—what must be discussed with full commission.
Many CHCs hold meetings in the county seat at the county courthouse to ensure consistency in scheduling and meeting etiquette. However, some CHCs host meetings in different communities in the county, so that all appointees become acquainted with all county resources. They also feel this effort generates countywide support for, and interest in, CHC programs and events.
Open Meetings Act Training
Appointed public officials--like CHC appointees--are required by a state law to receive training in Texas open government laws. The Open Meetings Act is contained in Texas Government Code, Chapter 551. We believe that this training sets the foundation for appointee service and a CHC's livelihood. The Office of the Attorney General offers free video training courses, which were developed to ensure that appointed government officials have a good command of both open records and open meetings laws.
More on Open Government Training here.
Open Meetings Handbook here.
Sample CHC meeting agenda -- provided by Brewster CHC
Money allocated, donated, or granted to the CHC is county money and should be kept in the county treasury. Decisions about financial matters should be discussed and approved by your county commissioners court. Your county auditor should help the CHC ensure that money matters conform to the regulations set forth for county government.
CHC appointees must prioritize their appointed duties and direct volunteer efforts toward work that can be accomplished with the CHC's available human and fiscal resources. Ideally, counties provide annual allocations for the CHC that will cover costs related to history-centric activities. While most counties provide monetary and in-kind support to CHCs, several counties do not provide this type of support. Regardless, CHCs must take the lead in securing and maintaining county funding.
CHCs must make a case throughout the year for county support -- propose budget with line items specific to needs, report to court regularly on expenditures and status of projects, and provide documentation for expenses and payment. And, of course, invite county officials to experience CHC projects and programs so that they can see the impact of CHC work.
CHCs were not established to fundraise, so do what you can to secure and maintain a county allocation. Encourage county support by making formal funding requests to the county and taking advantage of in-kind donations of equipment and services to supplement existing CHC funding. Be sure to thank the county, partners, and private donors for whatever support is provided to the CHC.
Our agency does not provide determinations for CHC fiscal matters--this is not our area of expertise nor does our agency have authority over CHC financial matters. Related inquiries are directed to county officials, county auditor, and the IRS. One frequent question we receive is the following: Are donations to the CHC tax deductible? CHCs should be structured and administered as a political subdivision of the county rather than a 501-c-3 nonprofit. If this is how your CHC is structured––as a political subdivision––we refer you to the IRS website here, which states, "Charitable contributions to governmental units are tax-deductible under section 170(c)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code if made for a public purpose."
Nonprofits Formed to Assist CHCs
In some counties, CHCs may feel it advantageous to help establish a nonprofit organization -- one with 501(c)3 status -- such as a “Friends of the Commission” that functions somewhat separately from the CHC. Past experience has shown that this effort often creates more work than assistance to the CHC. To be clear, CHCs do not require a Friends partner to conduct business.
Before creating a partner nonprofit, please consider that forming a nonprofit is not a magic wand that makes money appear. If fundraising is the primary reason for creating a nonprofit, please consider that appointees may raise as much money in the name of the CHC as individuals can raise in the name of a nonprofit. Regardless of organizational structure, fundraising and grant writing require time and money. Please remember that appointees' primary focus should be on physical stewardship of resources rather than fundraising.
If formed, the bylaws of a nonprofit Friends group for a CHC should state that all funds raised go to the CHC, and establish a checks-and-balances system to ensure that the work is consistent with the mission of the CHC. Remember, the nonprofit organization must function as a separate group from the CHC -- nonprofits are private organizations while CHCs are public, political subdivisions of the county. Consult an attorney before establishing a nonprofit corporation and keep in mind the many legal and ethical responsibilities that are carried by nonprofits. More information on establishing a nonprofit is available on the Texas Secretary of State’s web site here.
CHC Tax-Exempt Status
CHCs are part of county government. Section 115 of the Internal Revenue Code exempts governmental subdivisions from paying income tax. Therefore, a CHC is exempt from paying the state sales and use tax when transacting business in the name of the CHC. The CHC should be prepared to supply a certificate of exemption from paying the Texas sales and use tax when transacting business with a commercial firm. Contact your county auditor to secure this documentation. On a related note, monetary contributions to governmental subdivisions are tax deductible.
CHC statute information located here.
CHC Organizational Structure webpage here.
Information about creating CHC bylaws located here.
CHC Orientation content located here.