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Best Laid Plans: Following the OPMA When Adjourning or Canceling a Public Meeting

Red stamp labeled cancelled set against business to do list

There may be many reasons why a public meeting needs to be rescheduled or continued to a later date — everything from bad weather, an emergency at the meeting location, lack of a quorum, or anything else that might disrupt the conduct of public business.

Fear not, the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) provides a relatively straightforward procedure through which a public meeting can quickly be moved to a later time. The procedure, which is outlined in RCW 42.30.090, 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, Merriam-Webster defines adjourn as “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 continuing a meeting.

Who Can Adjourn a Meeting?

If present, 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 of the governing body 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 by the clerk — at least one member of the governing body must be present.

How Can a Public 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. Unless the meeting is remote without a physical location, the order must be posted immediately on or near the door of the original meeting location.

If the meeting is adjourned by the governing body’s clerk or secretary, this person 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. In other words, an announcement must be posted to the agency’s website (or a shared website), signage must be displayed at the main entrance of the agency’s principal location and immediately at the meeting location (if not held at the principal location), and notice must be sent to any local newspaper, radio, or television station that has a request on file to receive meeting notifications.

When Can a Public Meeting be Adjourned?

A governing body can, by majority vote, adjourn any public meeting during that meeting. The statute also says that “less than a quorum may so adjourn from time to time.” MRSC interprets this procedure to be available only to those present at the time of the planned meeting, even if it is just the clerk. Since a “meeting,” by definition, involves the intended interaction of a quorum to conduct agency business, this procedure cannot be used in advance.

What Happens When a Public Meeting is Adjourned?

The adjourned 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 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 were 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 also be adjourned again to a later time and place (if necessary) using the same adjournment procedure discussed above.

Can a Meeting be Canceled in Advance?

Sometimes it’s obvious that an issue, such as poor weather, 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, MRSC has consistently concluded that 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, MRSC  recommends 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. To schedule a replacement meeting, either provide notice of the new time as part of that cancellation notice or provide it in a subsequent, separate notice that also follows the requirements in RCW 42.30.080. Note that if the canceled meeting is being rescheduled to a time other than the time for regular meetings, you must treat the new meeting as a special meeting.

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.

Additional Resource

MRSC covers meeting adjournment, cancelation, and rescheduling in the newly updated Open Public Meetings Act publication.

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.

Photo of Sarah Doar

About Sarah Doar

Sarah Doar joined MRSC in September 2018.

Most recently, she served as a Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for Island County. At Island County, Sarah advised on many aspects of government business, including compliance with public record and opening meeting laws. She also defended the County in Growth Management Act and Land Use litigation. Prior to moving to Washington, Sarah practiced land use, environmental, and appellate law in Florida for over eight years.

Sarah holds a B.A. in Biology from Case Western Reserve University and a J.D. with a certificate in environmental and land use law from Florida State University College of Law.