In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the General Assembly has implemented several measures designed to prevent community transmission of the virus while allowing the Legislature to continue proceedings. This includes restricting public access to government office buildings and holding sponsor-only bill hearings. Many local governments will likely want to adopt similar measures for their public meetings, which will invite several questions relating to the Open Meetings Act.
In general, public bodies should attempt to the best of their abilities to allow public access to meetings. Alternatives to regular in-person meetings are acceptable, provided all standards of the Open Meetings Act are upheld. This includes public notice requirements prior to the meeting, the ability for the public to listen and participate or provide comment when appropriate, and proper record keeping in the form of meeting minutes.
Restricting Public Access to In-Person Meetings
The Open Meetings Compliance Board has not set a precedent for restricting members of the public from attending public meetings when there is a quorum of officials present in-person. The Open Meetings Act does prohibit a quorum of members from gathering in a place not accessible to the public.
The Open Meetings Compliance Board has held that a conference call is an acceptable form of meeting under the Open Meetings Act, provided that all standards are upheld. It is important that participants identify themselves when speaking for record keeping purposes.