Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 318, directs the Texas Historical Commission (THC) to make orientation material and training available to County Historical Commissions (CHCs). To assist chairs in ensuring appointee education needs are met, Outreach Program staff have provided the following orientation and training resources. Additional training specific to your CHC’s efforts may be developed and included in orientation as needed.
CHC chairs are responsible for ensuring all appointees complete CHC orientation either as a group or individually.
Step 1: Review State Statutes
Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 318, enables a county commissioners court to establish a CHC and provides directives to which CHCs must adhere. Appointees should review the statute. CHC chairs should print a copy of the statute, keep it on hand for reference during commission meetings, and provide a copy to their commissioners court.
Step 2: Watch the CHC Orientation Webinar
While directed toward CHC appointees, county officials and preservation partners may find the content useful. This one-hour webinar covers the statutory basics for appointees, including:
- Responsibilities of a CHC appointee.
- Resources available on the THC website.
- The statutory relationship between CHCs, the THC, and the public.
- Recommended preservation work from THC staff.
A copy of presentation slides to use for notetaking is provided here.
A follow-up worksheet to test your knowledge of the CHC Orientation webinar is provided here.
Step 3: Complete Open Meetings Act Training
CHCs are appointed public officials who are required by statute to meet at least four times per year. As a body of county government, CHC meetings must adhere to Open Meetings Act regulations and appointees must complete Open Meetings Act Training.
Step 4: Read THC Staff Recommendations to CHCs
THC staff identified programs and services most frequently used by CHCs and developed recommendations that enable CHCs to make the most of these preservation opportunities. Read preservation guidance and recommendations from THC staff here. To see THC staff recommendations for CHCs during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
Step 5: Understand Your Role in Federal and State Review
CHCs should be aware of threats to historic properties and archeological sites in their county. Sharing this information with THC staff helps planners prioritize them when adversely affected. Learn about review and compliance for local preservationists here.
Additional Training Resources
Although the following training resources are not part of statutory requirements, Outreach Program staff strongly suggest appointees review them as part of annual orientation and training.
1. Review Bylaws
Most CHCs have bylaws which provide organizational structure and guidelines for conducting business. Bylaws should comply with statute and be approved by county commissioners court. If your CHC has bylaws, refer to them as necessary.
2. Review Annual Reports
Annual reports provide a record of a CHC’s accomplishments and challenges. Contact your chair or Outreach Program staff for previously submitted reports.
3. Read CHC Project Highlights
Each year, Outreach Program staff review annual reports to identify exemplary CHC projects and share them with the public. This is a great way to learn how other CHCs preserve and promote their historic resources. Read CHC project highlights by clicking here and scrolling down to the CHC Activities section.
4. Review the Texas Statewide Historic Preservation Plan
Chapter 318 directs CHCs to prepare a plan for the preservation of the county’s historic and cultural resources using the Texas Statewide Historic Preservation Plan as guidance. See key goals and objectives for CHC’s within the plan here.
Frequently Asked Questions
CHCs and the THC
The THC is the state agency for historic preservation. Its mission is to protect and preserve the state’s historic and prehistoric resources for the use, education, enjoyment, and economic benefit of present and future generations. CHCs are part of county government and, as such, a partner to the THC. It is important for a CHC to understand the general organization of the THC, and the services provided by the agency. More about the THC and its commissioners is provided here and here. For a list of contacts for THC staff/services frequently used by CHCs, click here.
Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 318, directs county commissioners courts to make CHC appointments during January of odd-numbered years. Appointees serve a two-year term. County commissioners courts are directed to appoint individuals who broadly reflect the age, ethnic, and geographic diversity of the county. Appointees should have an interest in historic preservation and an understanding of local history and resources. All appointees must be willing and able to fulfill CHC responsibilities and attend commission meetings. Statutes do not limit the number of appointees but do set a minimum of seven appointees. Some CHCs allow non-county residents to serve on the commission. County commissioners courts are directed to fill a vacancy on the commission for the remainder of the unexpired term when an individual is unable to fulfill the two-year appointment. Statutes do not address officer positions or removal of CHC appointees. More information about CHC appointments is provided here.
A CHC is required by statute to meet at least four times per year but may meet as often as the commission deems appropriate. Many CHCs hold meetings in the county seat at the county courthouse for consistency. However, some CHCs host meetings in different communities. When determining the frequency and locations of meetings, consider the following:
- Requirements for CHC meetings to conform with Open Meetings Act.
- Location of commission members and distance from each other.
- Regular meeting location/days/times.
- Sufficient notice for appointees to attend.
- Types of meetings held, and length of time allotted for each.
- What must be addressed during full commission meetings and in committee meetings.
Texas Local Government Code, Chapter 318, does not discuss CHC bylaws. CHCs establish bylaws for their own regulation. The THC does not provide templates for bylaws, nor does our staff provide training in this area. Should your CHC decide to implement bylaws, your county’s auditor and attorney should review the draft to ensure that language aligns with county and state policies. Recommendations for bylaws can be found here.
CHC Fiscal Matters
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 ensure fiscal matters conform to the regulations set forth by the county government. The THC does not have authority over CHC financial matters. Inquiries should be directed to county officials, your county auditor, and the IRS.
Counties may provide annual allocations to cover the costs of the CHC. While most counties provide monetary and in-kind support to CHCs, several counties do not. CHCs must take the lead in securing and maintaining county funding. CHCs can propose budgets to address specific needs, report to commissioners on the status of projects, and provide documentation for expenses and payment. Take advantage of in-kind donations of equipment and services provided by county government. Invite county officials to participate in events so they can see the value of CHC efforts. Be sure to thank county officials, partners, and private donors for support provided.
CHC Tax-Exempt Status and Charitable Contributions
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. Contact your county auditor to secure this documentation. As a subdivision of county government, monetary contributions made to CHCs are tax deductible. Refer 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."
CHCs and Nonprofits
Some CHCs have established a nonprofit organization with 501(c)3 status, such as a “Friends of the Commission” that function in coordination with the CHC. Prior to creating a partner nonprofit, consider the costs, benefits, and consequences of doing so. If fundraising is the primary reason for creating a nonprofit, remember that appointees may raise funds in the name of the CHC. Efforts such as fundraising and grant writing will require time and attention from CHC appointees whose focus should be stewardship of historic resources. Nonprofits are private organizations while CHCs are public, political, subdivisions of the county. If formed, the bylaws of a nonprofit group for a CHC should state that all funds raised go to the CHC and ensure that work is consistent with the mission of the CHC. Consult an attorney before establishing a nonprofit corporation. More information on establishing a nonprofit is available on the Texas Secretary of State’s web site here.