By John Pinkney
What is the California Open Meeting Act?
The California Open Meeting Act is a law that allows members of the public and others to attend and get notified about meetings involving local and state officials (with some exceptions). Under this law, local and state agencies (or other government bodies such as “commissions, school districts”), must provide public notice of their meeting along with information about the items to be discussed.
Who Need to be Notified Under the California Open Meeting Act?
To comply with the California Meeting Act, notice for most meetings must be supplied in three ways:
- In a publicly accessible place
- To any interested individual or group that requests it
- On the Internet (with the website link listed on the agenda)
State agencies and related groups that fall under the California Open Meeting Act must send out a notice at least 10 days in advance. Local agencies must provide notice within 72 hours. Many agencies send their notices through mailing lists.
Agencies and boards must also send the notice and meeting agenda to members of the public who specifically request it or in alternative formats, where required by federal law. Information about the deadlines for receiving a meeting notice in an alternative format must be listed in the meeting.
What is Required on a Meeting Notice Under the California Open Meeting Act?
The meting notice should have the following 3 items, at a minimum:
- Location & Time: Where and what time the meeting will be held
- Contact Person: Contact information of the person who can answer questions about the agenda
- Agenda: Brief description of what will be done at the meeting (20 words or less)
The purpose of the notice is give interested members of the public enough information to determine if they want to attend and participate in the upcoming meeting.
Agenda items on the meeting notice cannot be considered prior to the meeting or deceptively labeled, such as listing a topic that has already been decided on.
Are There Any Special Situations or Exceptions to California’s Open Meeting Act?
The California Open Meeting Act was designed to increase transparency in normal local and state meetings. It does not cover all meetings. Depending on the nature of the agenda or the level of government involved, local and state agencies can still have closed meetings.
Under the Act, however, notice of closed sessions still require a notice of the meeting and the agenda items involved. This allows the public to keep up with closed sessions even if they can’t attend.
There is another general exception to California’s Open Meeting Rule, special meetings or meeting topics. In these special situations, a topic can be added if to a local or state agenda if notice is provided earlier than 48 hours. (§ 11125.) This can occur if an item discussed in the meeting requires an “emergency meeting” or for a topic that requires immediate attention. In a situation involving immediate attention, a two-thirds or unanimous vote must be made.
Still have questions about California’s Open Meeting Act? Feel free to reach out to our Palm Springs government legal counsel. We can provide additional information and insight to help you understand how the Open Meeting Act impacts you or your agency on a local level.