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If a majority of the members of a board are communicating online at the same time, would that constitute a public meeting?

Question: 

If a majority of the members of a board are communicating online at the same time, would that constitute a public meeting?

Answer: 

Yes. The provisions for electronic meetings under 21.8 apply as well to telephone and online conferences. So if the majority of the members of a governmental body hold an online conference, via email or social media, they should follow the same guidelines that would apply to a telephone conference call. Provisions in Chapters 21 or 22 can reasonably accommodate use of laptop computers, e-mail and online conferences by public officials.

Keep in mind the Legislature's mandate that "the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves," should be accessible to the people.  Members of governmental bodies should be cautious about discussing public business among themselves extensively outside of public meetings.  Citizens become frustrated when they feel they are being shut out of the decision-making process by public officials they suspect are conducting government business and striking deals outside of the public eye.

Some government bodies have maintained the flexibility of electronic communication while ensuring government transparency by posting officials’ e-mails online for public access under the public records law.  Proposed legislation that would prohibit “walking quorums” — serial communication among individual members of a government body, either in person or electronically, with the intent to skirt the open meetings law — has been the topic of much discussion at the Statehouse in recent years.

Printed from the website on February 06, 2023 at 4:26pm.