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.
- Effective July 23, 2023, HB 1645 allows a county legislative authority to hold one regular meeting per month in a city within the county that has a larger population than the county seat, and one meeting per quarter at any other location within the county, as long as no more than one total meeting per month is held at an alternative location.
- Effective June 30, 2024, EHB 1210 requires all school district board meetings to be audio recorded, subject to exceptions for executive sessions and emergencies, and kept for at least one year.
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.
A "meeting" under the OPMA occurs when a quorum (majority) 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.
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.
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.
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. Updated to reflect legislative changes as of June 2023.
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. Updated to reflect legislative changes as of June 2023.
Notification Checklist for Special Meetings
Use the following notification checklist to ensure that your agency provides the required notice for special meetings. This checklist was revised to reflect legislative changes as of June 2023.
- Special Meeting Notification Checklist (Updated June 2023)
- Clark County County Council Special Meeting Notice (2023) – Provides notice of a special meeting with a state agency, identifying the topic to be discussed and providing information on how the public can participate either in person or remotely.
- Covington City Council Notice of Special Meeting (2023) – Identifies commission interviews as the topic to be discussed during a special meeting, provides information on how the public can attend in-person, telephonically, or virtually.
- Mount Vernon City Council Notice of Special Meeting (2023) – Identifies ARPA funding as the topic to be discussed during the special meeting and includes a brief staff report and a copy of the resolution being proposed for approval. Also notes that copies of the notice were provided to named councilmembers and named media outlets.
Meeting agendas must be posted on most agency websites no later than 24 hours in advance of all regular and special meetings (RCW 42.30.077 and RCW 42.30.080). But, who drafts the agenda? And, can it be modified after it’s posted online? If so, how does an agency accomplish this modification? Use the below practice tips for guidance on these questions.
Developing and Modifying Agendas. Use these practice tips as a starting guide for agenda development and modification for both regular and special meetings. Published June 2023.
Minutes must be taken at all regular and special meetings. See RCW 42.30.035.
Minutes. Use these practice tips to review legal and practical tips for taking minutes of special and regular meetings. Published June 2023.
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. Updated to reflect legislative changes as of June 2023.
- Open Public Meetings Act publication – This downloadable publication offers a detailed look at the OPMA, including who is subject to the OPMA, procedural requirements, executive sessions, exemptions, penalties, and more.
- 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 was last updated in 2016, but it provides a good overview of the OPMA's general legal requirements.
- 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.