Open Public Meetings Act Basics
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 Center for Government Innovation.
It is part of MRSC's series on the Open Public Meetings Act.
OPMA legislation and proclamations: There are several new changes related to the Open Public Meetings Act taking effect in 2022:
- HB 1329, with effective dates in March and June 2022, makes several changes regarding the location of meetings, remote attendance, public comment, posting of notices, and more. For details, see our blog posts The OPMA Gets and Update from the Legislature and HB 1329: Answers to Your OPMA Questions.
- Effective June 1, 2022, Proclamation 20-28 et seq. regarding public meetings during COVID-19 has been rescinded. For details, see our blog post OPMA/PRA Emergency Proclamation Will Expire June 1.
- Effective June 9, 2022, HB 1630 prohibits any person to knowingly open carry a firearm or other weapon, while knowingly being in city, town, county, or other municipal buildings used in connection with meetings of the agency's governing body, or any other location of a public meeting or public hearing of the governing body, during the hearing or meeting. Local agencies must post signs providing notice of these restrictions.
We will be updating our website soon to reflect these changes.
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.
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.
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 a potential personal liability of $500 for the first violation and $1,000 for a subsequent one. See RCW 42.30.120(1)(2).
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.
MRSC and the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) have created an OPMA online course to help mayors and councilmembers fulfill these training requirements.
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. Re-designed and revised with minor clarifications in May 2021.
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. Re-designed and revised with minor clarifications in May 2021.
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.
- Covington City Council Notice of Special Meeting (2015) – Specifies the day when the special meeting agenda will be posted in the city's website.
- Edmonds City Council Special Meeting Notice (2014) – This example, reformatted by MRSC, includes a record of where the notice was posted/mailed.
- Spokane County Board of Commissioners Notice of Special Meeting (2018) – Meets OPMA notice requirements, and alerts the public that board members may participate via conference call.
- Monroe Transportation Benefit District Board Notice of Special Meeting (2014) – Includes a special meeting agenda.
Members of a governing body may also meet in executive 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. For further information on executive sessions, see:
- Executive Session Basics – Provides a general overview of executive sessions as allowed by the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), including a procedural requirements checklist with practice tips, as well as an executive session script template.
- Executive Session FAQs – Browse answers to frequently asked questions regarding holding executive sessions as allowed by the Open Public Meetings Act (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. Re-designed and revised with minor clarifications in May 2021.
- Public Hearings – Provides an overview of the legal requirements for conducting public hearings in Washington State and describes the basic procedures that should be followed for a proper public hearing.
Washington State Office of the Attorney General
- Open Government Resource Manual (2016) – This online manual covers the legal requirements and case law of the OPMA, including links to RCWs and court decisions.
- OPMA Guidance on Frequently Asked Questions About Processes to Fill Vacant Positions by Public Agency Governing Boards (2016) – This guidance is intended to assist public agency governing bodies in complying with the OPMA when filling vacant positions in their agencies.