The Open Public Meetings Act Pop Quiz
April 15, 2019
Category: Open Public Meetings Act
Local agency employees and officials should periodically refresh their knowledge of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) in order to avoid violating the law and to stay in compliance with the Open Government Trainings Act. This pop quiz will help with your OPMA knowledge and remind you about potential OPMA pitfalls.
Question #1: Meetings Subject to the OPMA
The city manager is meeting with a councilmember and two department heads. Is this meeting subject to the OPMA?
No. The OPMA applies to meetings where a quorum of the governing body is present. Here, the only member of the governing body present is one councilmember, which is not a quorum of the governing body.
Question #2: The Meeting Agenda
Does the public need to be provided with an agenda prior to a regular meeting of a governing body?
Bonus: Can the governing body amend the agenda after it has been made available to the public?
Yes, so long as the agency has a website (and employs at least 10 full time employees), the preliminary meeting agenda must be posted on the agency website no later than 24-hours in advance of the meeting (see RCW 42.30.077).
The governing body can amend the agenda after it has been made available to the public. This can be done prior to the meeting (by the mayor, executive director, clerk, or other individual responsible for creating the preliminary agenda) or during the meeting by a vote of the governing body. Note, however, other statutes may otherwise require a jurisdiction to notify the public of the preliminary agenda of upcoming meetings (See, e.g., RCW 35A.12.160).
Question #3: Scheduling a Special Meeting
The clerk sends an email to all members of the governing body asking if they are free on Friday at 3:00 pm for a special meeting of the governing body. Each member “replies all” indicating their availability for the meeting. Do these email communications violate the OPMA?
No. Under RCW 42.30.080 a special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the governing body or by a majority of the members of the governing body. In order to give effect to this grant of authority, MRSC believes it’s permissible for a majority of the members of the governing body to confer outside of a public meeting for the sole purpose of discussing whether to call a special meeting.
Question #4: Traveling Together
Is it a violation of the OPMA for five out of seven members of the governing body to travel together to a conference?
No. Per RCW 42.30.070: “It shall not be a violation…for a majority of the members of a governing body to travel together or gather for purposes other than a regular meeting or a special meeting as these terms are used in this chapter: PROVIDED, That they take no action as defined in this chapter.”
In other words, so long as the five members do not discuss agency business during their travel to the conference, there is no OPMA violation.
Question #5: Conference Attendance
All seven members of the governing body are attending the same conference. Must this be noticed as a special meeting?
No. Attending a conference together is not considered a meeting under the OPMA and does not need to be noticed as such so long as a quorum of the legislative body does not discuss agency business with each other while at the conference (see RCW 42.30.070). It is also fine for the individual members of the governing body to discuss agency affairs with other conference attendees.
However, MRSC does advise against a member of the governing body asking questions related to agency business during any Q&A portion of the conference when the other members of the governing body are in attendance (because the other members are now hearing about agency business, which may qualify as a “discussion” and, therefore, an “action” under RCW 42.30.020(3)).
Question #6: No Quorum
There is no quorum for tonight’s regularly scheduled meeting. Can the meeting still be held to take public testimony on a controversial agency matter?
No. A meeting of the legislative body cannot be held without a quorum. If less than a quorum of the governing body is present for a meeting, the only official action that can take place is to adjourn the meeting. For more information see RCW 42.30.090 and a previous MRSC blog post on cancelling public meetings.
Question #7: Executive Session
The chair of the governing body announces to those in attendance at the public meeting that the governing body will now be meeting in executive session to discuss personnel issues and the executive session will end in 30 minutes. Is this announcement adequate for OPMA purposes?
Gotcha! While, at first blush, this announcement appears to comply with the OPMA requirements, it does not. Executive sessions can only be held for the precise purposes set forth in RCW 42.30.0110(1). “Personnel issues,” in general, is not one of the recognized purposes for holding an executive session. Rather, an executive session can be held to discuss these types of personnel issues:
- Complaints or charges brought against a public officer or employee,
- Qualifications for public employment,
- Performance of a public employee,
- Current or potential litigation involving personnel (legal counsel is required to be in attendance), or
- Legal risks of current or proposed action involving personnel (again, legal counsel must be in attendance).
Thus, the presiding officer should use one of the specific personnel purposes identified in the RCW and should not use the general purpose of “personnel issues.”
Question #8: Remote Attendance
There are three members of the governing body and none are able to attend the regularly scheduled meeting in person. Can the meeting be held?
Yes. The Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion in 2017 stating that remote attendance by phone or video is not prohibited by the OPMA so long as the speaker phone or video is provided at the designated meeting place at the designated meeting time and the speaker phone or video allows attending members of the public to hear all discussion and participate in the discussion (if allowed by agency rule). I wrote a blog article a few years ago that describes the AGO’s opinion.
Your quiz time is up! Put down your pens (i.e., stop clicking your mouse) and turn in your answers. The good news: everyone passes!
If you have questions about the OPMA or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.