Information About Open Meeting Laws
The Open Meeting Laws have been enforced by the Attorney General and are applicable to the state governmental bodies. The enforcement of the laws relative to counties, cities and towns is the responsibility of the Local District Attorney’s Office. The federal law was enacted in the year 1976 under the Open Meetings Act.
Purpose of the Open Meeting Laws
The idea behind the establishment of the Open Meeting Law is to remove much of the secrecy surrounding the decisions and deliberations based on which the public policy revolves. The principle on which the democratic process depends is supported by the Open Meeting Law. One of the essential requirements that the Open Meeting Law states is that the meetings of the governmental bodies must be held in public. The Open Meeting Laws underlines the circumstances under which a public meeting may be held in executive, or closed, session.
The Open Meeting Law applies to the governmental agencies at the federal level. The Law states that the meeting of these agencies should be open to the public, the notice of the meetings to be held should be posted in public and the accurate records of such proceedings must be maintained and made available to the public to view.
With the help of the Open Meeting Law the public can have the idea of the democratic process and knowledge about the various considerations which governs the governmental actions, without which it becomes hard for the public to judge the merits and the demerits of the actions taken by the representatives.
The Law is applicable to the meetings of the governmental agencies in which a quorum of the body convenes to deliberate on any policy or public business which falls within its jurisdiction.
Scope of the Open Meeting Laws in States
The rules and procedure of the Open Meeting Laws is generally the same in all the states but certain exemptions vary from state to state. In the case of Wisconsin, the term "meeting" means one thing i.e. to convene the member of a governmental body to exercise their authority, responsibility, duties and power delegated to that particular government body.
For a meeting to be successful, minimum number of members of the government body or quorum, which is one half or more, must be present during the proceeding. An email or telephone conference discussion among the relevant number of members can be considered to be a meeting subject to the guidelines of the Open Meeting Law of the state. Without a statutory provision, a secret ballot cannot be used to make any decision in the matters of election. But this is not taken into consideration in matters of election of the officers of a public body.
In the case of Open Meeting Laws in Maryland, the statute clearly mentions that the common physical presence of the member of a government body is not necessary for a meeting to occur. Therefore the statute does not apply to an exchange of correspondence of between the members of the public body. The Open Meeting Law in Maryland also states that the Act is not applicable to conventional email messages. The other laws in the state might address that whether or not a public body is allowed to make decisions by these means, but this Act clearly negates this.
There are certain exceptions in the Open Meeting Laws of Massachusetts that are different from the other states. Massachusetts Open Meeting Law states that for the protection of individual rights and reputation, you cannot discuss character, reputation, physical condition and mental health status of an individual, not to consider the complaints or charges which are brought against a public officer, staff member, employee and other public, not to discuss on matters relating to litigation or collective bargaining if the open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the position of a governmental body and few other exceptions.
The Open Meeting Laws follow the same guidelines of the federal statute but U.S. federal laws do not translate to the state level; each state maintains its own constitution and sets of laws, except for the basic civil rights outlined in the U.S. Constitution many state laws follow the lead of federal statutes and may even pass a similar law.
The Meetings of the Governmental Bodies
The Open Meeting Law states that all the meetings of governmental body are open and any person is permitted to attend these meetings.
But there are certain circumstances when a public body can held closed meetings. These circumstances specially occurs when the topic of the discussions are related to sensitive issues like dismissal, evaluation, discipline of a public officer, collective bargaining, purchase or lease of real estate, pending litigation's and others.
As per the Open Meeting Law, no public body has the authority to vote on matters by secret ballot as the all the decisions and voting should be made public.
Open Meeting Laws and Public Records
The Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meeting Law are designed specifically to protect the rights and providing you with the opportunity to see how government functions. The Open Meeting Law enables the public to attend the meetings of the public agencies and the proceedings of such meetings are made available to the public. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) enables the citizens to inspect, review and receive copies of public records.
As a citizen, one has the right to view records such as open meetings, voting records, financial records, staff manuals, personnel records and salaries of public officials and employees. You have the right to view this records irrespective of the form they are maintained.
You can request the records by mail, fax or e-mails. Some of the public agencies also have their own format of request, like a form for requesting a record and these agencies also charge you for the records requests.