Fostering the rights of the public to hold elected and other public officials accountable is crucial for the ongoing success of society. Because of that, all the states in the U.S. have adopted laws dictating the actions of government bodies regarding the formation of public policy.
As we noted in a post in June, compliance with the law can present a challenge. New avenues of social media and telecommunications make it possible for policy-making bodies to conduct business away from the view of the constituents they serve. But the law requires transparency for most deliberative activity. So, to achieve that, information exchanged through newer media platforms must be viewable and searchable by the public for at least 30 days ahead of any final decisions.
Maintaining proper compliance demands clear knowledge of what is and is not allowed. And because the law can change, it’s considered wise to obtain guidance from legal counsel experienced in assessing the implications of any relevant laws. And there can be many.
Acknowledging that preventing violations is preferred to possible consequences after the fact, here are some things entities would do well to keep in mind.
- Don’t deliberate before preparing an agenda. Agendas list what a body will consider at a regular or special meeting and publication of the agenda can serve as public notice of anticipated action. But making decisions while setting the agenda opens the door to possible challenges.
- Meet Quorum requirements. A quorum exists when a majority of members are present in a single location. That site might be a social media forum, when the public has access.
- Ensure subjects of closed sessions comply with allowed exclusions. Generally, governmental bodies can call closed sessions in very limited circumstances, such as when conferring with their attorney about pending or anticipated litigation, a settlement offer, or some other specific topic, such as individual personnel hiring or firing. However, any such meeting must deal only with the identified subject at hand.
The law also allows some specific state entities to enter closed sessions to deal with certain issues, though a unanimous vote of members to that effect may be required.
What’s clear is that processes and procedures are highly regulated. Remaining compliant can be complicated without reliable input from skilled counsel.