Windstorms, Blizzards & More: What Can Be Done When Weather-Related Issues Cancel a Public Meeting?
December 5, 2016
Category: Open Public Meetings Act
Bad weather cancel your public meeting? Fear not, the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) provides a relatively straightforward procedure through which your public meeting can quickly be rescheduled to a day with clearer skies (or potentially working lights). That procedure is outlined in RCW 42.30.090, as discussed below, and allows a public agency to adjourn any type of public meeting to a later time and place.
A quick word about terminology: while “adjourn” might be commonly understood to mean simply ending a meeting, its primary dictionary definition is “to suspend a session indefinitely or to another time or place.” So, to “adjourn” a meeting under RCW 42.30.090 really can be understood as rescheduling a meeting.
Who Can Adjourn a Meeting?
A quorum of the governing body of a public agency may adjourn any type of public meeting, regular or special, to a stated time and place. Under RCW 42.30.090, less than a quorum may similarly adjourn any type of public meeting, provided that a majority of members are absent.
If all members of the governing body are absent from a regular meeting or an adjourned regular meeting, the clerk or secretary of the governing body may adjourn the meeting to a stated time and place. A special meeting, however, cannot be adjourned unless at least one member of the governing body is present.
How Can a Meeting be Adjourned?
If a quorum or less of a governing body adjourns the public meeting, then it must prepare an order of adjournment that specifies the time and place of the resulting rescheduled meeting.
If the meeting is adjourned by the governing body’s clerk or secretary, he or she must create a written notice of adjournment specifying the time and place of the rescheduled meeting. Public notice must then be given in the same manner as required for a special meeting under RCW 42.30.080.
Whenever any meeting is adjourned, a copy of the order or notice of adjournment must be conspicuously posted immediately following the adjournment on or near the door of the meeting place.
What Happens When a Public Meeting is Adjourned?
The rescheduled meeting will take place at the time and place specified in the order or notice of adjournment. Depending on what type of meeting was adjourned, the rescheduled meeting will be either an “adjourned special” or an “adjourned regular” meeting.
Note that, although it has a different name, an adjourned regular meeting is treated as if it was a regular meeting for all purposes, meaning that a governing body can take any action at an adjourned regular meeting that it would be able to take during a regular meeting.
The resulting adjourned meeting, regular or special, may be adjourned again to a later time and place using the same adjournment procedure discussed above.
Can a Meeting be Canceled in Advance?
Sometimes it’s obvious that a weather-related issue, such as a blizzard or a flood, will likely prevent many, including members of the governing body, from attending an upcoming public meeting. Although state law doesn’t specifically address the issue, we’ve consistently concluded that, as a practical matter, a majority of the governing body may cancel an upcoming public meeting in advance, and may even do so outside of a public meeting, just as a governing body may decide outside of a public meeting to hold a special meeting.
While state law does not require any specific procedure for canceling an upcoming meeting, I recommend providing notice of the cancellation to the public in the same manner that notice is given for a special meeting under RCW 42.30.080. Either as part of that cancellation notice, or in a subsequent, separate notice that also follows the requirements in RCW 42.30.080, the governing body may call for a future special meeting, after the weather will no longer be an issue, to discuss the issues that were on the agenda for the canceled regular or special meeting.
But, if the meeting to be canceled is a regular meeting and the governing body is intending to take action that state law requires be taken in a regular meeting, then RCW 42.30.090’s adjournment procedure should be used instead of a cancellation in advance, because the resulting rescheduled meeting will then qualify as a regular meeting.
Note: This blog was originally published on December 9, 2015 and is being republished due to its continuing relevance to local governments across the state during this time of year. The information conveyed in this blog remains accurate and up-to-date.
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