One of the most frequently asked questions we have received from our local government clients during the Covid-19 shelter in place order relates to conducting “virtual” board and council meetings so we have shared our general thoughts on this topic below.
Q: Our corporate authorities have decided to meet over GoToMeeting for its next regular board meeting to comply with the Governor’s stay at home order. Do we still have to meet in a manner that is open and convenient to the public?
A: Yes. Although Executive Order No. 2020-07 (issued on March 16, 2020) suspended some of the requirements for in-person attendance at meetings to allow electronic attendance, it did not suspend the Open Meetings Act generally. Meetings must still be held in a manner that is “open and convenient” to the public and there still needs to be an opportunity for public comment. Of course, public bodies still must comply with notice and agenda requirements as well.
During these strange days there will be changes from your normal meeting procedures, but public bodies still cannot conduct business privately. Consideration should be given to how the public can at least see or listen to the meeting virtually without needing to attend in person. Instructions for how members of the public can see, listen, and/or participate in meetings should be listed at the top of each agenda. In addition, instructions for how members of the public can submit public comments should also be listed on the agenda. That might include, for example, listing an email address or cell phone number where members of the public can send written comments in advance of or at the meeting that will be read at the meeting or identifying a call-in number of log-in information where the public can electronically participate in the meeting and provide public comments either through a chat function or through audio or video means during the public comment portion of the meeting.
The key takeaway is that the Open Meetings Act is still in effect, and meetings of public bodies must still be open to the public, even those meetings that are “virtual” in nature where all or most of the public body is attending electronically.