In a recent binding opinion, the Public Access Counselor found that a city council violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA) when it failed to provide the Zoom link to a remote meeting and failed to maintain an audio or video recording of the remote meeting. A city council posted the agenda for its January 11, 2022, meeting on the doors of city hall, indicating that the meeting would be a “ZOOM MEETING.” The agenda did not provide a link to the Zoom meeting, or any other means for members of the public to obtain access to the remote meeting held via zoom without requesting it directly from the public body. The agenda also did not indicate that members of the public could have attended the meeting in person.
A member of the public filed a Request for Review with the PAC alleging that the city council violated OMA when it held a remote meeting without providing the public with the web-based link to the meeting ahead of time. While the city council argued that it met the requirements for a remote meeting because the Zoom link could have been provided upon request and that members of the public could have attended the meeting in person at city hall, the PAC did not agree. Section 7(e)(4) of OMA requires that in the event a public body holds a remote meeting, it must make alternative arrangements to allow interested members of the public to attend contemporaneously, and Section 7(e)(7) of OMA requires 48-hours’ notice of such a meeting, except in the event of a bona fide emergency. Because the posted agenda indicating a remote meeting for January 11, 2022, did not provide a link for accessing the meeting before it began and implied that the meeting would only be held remotely, the city council violated OMA. Furthermore, the PAC also found that the city council violated Section 7(e)(9) of OMA, which requires a public body to make an audio or video recording of the remote meeting.
This decision emphasizes the need for public bodies to clearly state how to access remote meetings. Links and other alternative methods of access for remote meetings should be posted on the agenda, with sufficient notice to the public. If in person attendance will be allowed, that should be indicated on the agenda, including the location. Furthermore, all remote meetings must have an audio or video recording to comply with the requirements of OMA.
If you have any questions regarding OMA or this PAC decision, please contact Kerry Pipal or any of our attorneys in the Board Governance/Corporate practice group.
Source: Public Access Op. 22-003