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Can a Majority of the Members of a Governing Body Call a Special Meeting Without Violating the OPMA in Doing So?


June 5, 2012 by Bob Meinig
Category: Open Public Meetings Act

Good question!  RCW 42.30.080, which deals with special meetings, starts out by stating that "A special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the governing body of a public agency or by a majority of the members of the governing body . . . ." Obviously, while in a regular or special meeting, a governing body may decide to hold a special meeting in the future - no Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) issue there.  But special meetings often need to be called when something comes up requiring action by the governing body prior to the next scheduled meeting.  If a majority of the members of a governing body make a decision outside of a regular or special meeting to hold a special meeting, does that very action violate the OPMA?  I don't think so.{C}

I don't think so because this special meeting statute, as quoted above, specifically authorizes a majority to take this action and does not require that it be done in a meeting. Also, the very nature of special meetings requires that they can be called, with proper notice, whenever they are needed. If they could be called only when a scheduled meeting is being held, governing bodies would be severely hampered in their ability to take needed action in a timely manner.  Consequently, the decision by members of a governing body to call a special meeting will often have to occur outside of an OPMA-compliant meeting, such as by telephone or email.  That action, when taken outside of a regular or special meeting, should not be considered to violate the OPMA.  The state legislature would not have intended to create a Catch-22 situation here, authorizing an action that results in a violation of the law.

So, it's the opinion of the MRSC legal staff that a majority or more of a governing body may, without violating the OPMA, communicate outside of a meeting to decide to hold a special meeting, when it would be held, and for what purpose.  However, we strongly recommend that these communications be through a third party, such as the city clerk or the clerk of the board of county commissioners.  For example, Councilmember X (who may or may not have discussed this with Councilmembers Y and/or Z) emails the city clerk saying he/she wants to call a special meeting at a particular day and time to transact particular business; the city clerk then emails the other  councilmembers saying Councilmember X wants to call a special meeting at a particular day and time to transact particular business, and asks the councilmembers to respond to the clerk whether they agree to Councilmember X's request, or suggesting an alternate time.  If a majority (which would include Councilmember X) agree to the call for a special meeting, then the clerk would notify all the councilmembers - as well as media who have requested notice of special meetings and the public.

Of course, any communications involving a quorum or more of the governing body outside of a regular or special meeting regarding whether to hold a special meeting may only deal with the subjects of whether and when to hold the special meeting and what business would be transacted at that meeting.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Bob Meinig

Bob has written extensively on the state Open Public Meetings Act and on municipal incorporation and annexation. At MRSC, he has also advised local governments for over 25 years on diverse legal issues.

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