This page provides a general overview of the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) as applied to local government agencies, including checklists and tips created in collaboration with the State Auditor’s Office Local Government Performance Center. For key court decisions and attorney general opinions, see OPMA Court Decisions and AG Opinions.
The Washington Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), codified in chapter 42.30 RCW, requires that all meetings of governing bodies of public agencies, including cities, counties, and special purpose districts, be open to the public.
The OPMA contains specific provisions regarding regular and special meetings, executive sessions, the types of notice that must be given for meetings, the conduct of meetings, and the penalties and remedies for violations.
What Is a "Meeting"?
A "meeting" under the OPMA occurs when a quorum of a city council, board of county commissioners, or other governing body (including certain kinds of committees) gathers with the collective intent of transacting the governing body's business. In order to be valid, ordinances, resolutions, rules, regulations, orders, and directives must be adopted at meetings conducted in compliance with the OPMA.
Also, note that meetings do not have to be in person to be subject to the OPMA. Meetings can occur by telephone, email, or other electronic media.
Who Is Required to Comply?
The following local government bodies are required to comply with the OPMA:
- Governing bodies of public agencies: city and town councils, boards of county commissioners or county councils, or special purpose district boards of commissioners.
- Governing bodies of subagencies, including planning commissions, library boards, parks boards, and civil service commissions.
- Certain committees of governing bodies that act on behalf of (exercise actual or de facto decision-making authority for) the governing body, conduct hearings, or take testimony or public comment. See the blog post State Supreme Court Says Advisory Committees Are Not Subject to the OPMA.
Penalties for Noncompliance
Any action taken at a meeting held in violation of the OPMA is null and void. See RCW 42.30.060(1).
Any member of a governing body who attends a meeting knowing that it violates the OPMA is subject to potential personal liability of $100. See RCW 42.30.120(1).
Effective June 9, 2016, RCW 42.30.120 will be amended to increase the penalty to $500 for a governing body member’s knowing violation, and add a new $1,000 penalty for a subsequent knowing violation. See SB 6171.
Any person who prevails against an agency in any action in the courts for a violation of the OPMA will be awarded all costs, including attorney fees, incurred in connection with such legal action. See RCW 42.30.120(2).
All members of governing bodies must complete OPMA training within 90 days of taking the oath of office or assuming duties (RCW 42.30.205). A refresher OPMA training is also required every four years. For more information, see the Washington State Attorney General's webpage on Open Government Training.
Basic Procedural Requirements for All Meetings
The OPMA establishes some basic procedural requirements that apply to all meetings, whether they are regular or special meetings.
Agency Obligations: A Starting Point. Use these practice tips to guide your agency's OPMA compliance.
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Notice Requirements for Regular and Special Meetings
To ensure that agency deliberations and other actions are conducted and taken openly, agencies are required under the OPMA to provide sufficient public notice of meetings of their governing bodies.
Notice Requirements. Use these practice tips as a starting guide for OPMA notice requirements for both regular and special meetings.
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Notification Checklist for Special Council Meetings
Use the following notification checklist to ensure that your agency provides the required notice for special meetings. This sample is written for cities but the wording can be easily modified for counties and special purpose districts.
Members of a governing body may also meet in executive (closed) session during an open public meeting, but only for one of the reasons specified in and in accordance with the procedures identified in RCW 42.30.110.
Executive Session Procedures. Use this checklist to guide your agency's compliance with the OPMA requirements for executive sessions.
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- Executive Session Script (2016) – Use this template to ensure that your agency's executive session script complies with the OPMA.
Electronic communications by members of a local government’s governing body can implicate the OPMA.
Electronic Communications Practice Tips. Use these practice tips to guide your agency’s OPMA compliance in the context of electronic communications.
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