Serving as an elected official is not an easy job. Mayors and council members across Texas are tasked with making tough decisions that impact the lives of their citizens and the wellbeing of their communities. Citizens rely on their local representatives to use their judgment in serving the best interests of the community.
There are, however, certain situations in which elected officials are tasked with carrying out duties where they have no discretion. Under Texas law, there are instances where public officials are compelled to carry out ministerial acts. A ministerial act is one which must be performed as a matter of obligation. Ministerial acts typically arise where the law is so plain and explicit that nothing is left to discretion or judgment. In such instances, elected officials are compelled to carry out specific tasks prescribed by the legislature. Virtually every local official will be tasked with carrying out ministerial duties at some point during their term.
For example, under Texas law, if a sufficient number of citizens sign a petition to propose a charter amendment, city council has no choice but to submit the question to the voters at the next election. So long as the requirements of a petition are met, the proposed amendments must be put to a vote and it becomes a ministerial duty for the council to order the election and submit the question to the voters. In other words, the elected officials have no discretion in calling the election or submitting the issue to the electorate. The legislature has mandated that they must do so.
Following an election, city council is faced with another ministerial non-discretionary duty in the form of canvassing the results of the election. The Texas Elections Code requires that city council “shall” canvass the results, and that they must do so within a specific time frame. Council Is left with no alternative but to carry out the duty as prescribed.
Another common example of a ministerial duty comes in the form of plat approvals. When a city receives a plat application that complies with the general plan of the city and all rules related to plats and subdivisions, the approval of the plat becomes a ministerial duty. Put simply, the governing body must approve and endorse the plat whether they are in favor of it or not.
Ministerial acts are treated as duties that are prescribed in such a plain and straightforward manner that they must be carried out. In fact, failing to carry out ministerial duties is one of the few reasons a local official can be held personally liable in a civil suit. In general, Texas courts have held that elected officials have official immunity when performing discretionary acts in good faith, within the scope of their authority. Ministerial acts however, are not discretionary. These are duties which elected officials are compelled by law to perform. Since these acts are not discretionary in nature, elected officials generally can be held personally liable for torts that arise from ministerial acts.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice.