Calculation of Quorum and Majority

What is a quorum of a public body?

The Open Meeting Law defines a quorum as a simple majority of the members of a public body, unless otherwise provided in a general or special law, executive order, or other authorizing provision.  G.L. c. 30A, § 18.  If a quorum of a public body wants to discuss public business within that body’s jurisdiction, they must do so during a properly posted meeting.  See id.

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How does a public body determine what constitutes “a simple majority of the members,” for purposes of calculating quorum, when there are vacancies?

When there is a vacancy on a public body, a quorum is still measured by the number of members of the public body as constituted.  See Gamache v. Town of Acushnet, 14 Mass. App. Ct. 215, 219 (1982) (noting that a Town bylaw established a board of appeals of five members, and a temporary vacancy did not alter that bylaw).  However, a general or special law, executive order, or other authorizing provision may provide for the quorum of a public body to be a majority of the members serving on the body.  See G.L. c. 30A, § 18.  The Open Meeting Law does not define what constitutes an “authorizing provision,” but where a general or special law sets a body’s or type of body’s number of members or quorum requirement, no other provision can set a different number or requirement.  And where a general law says that a body or type of body has a set number of members, then unless a general or special law says otherwise, G.L. c. 4, § 6, clause 5, sets the quorum at a majority of that number, and no other provision can set a different quorum requirement. 

Examples:

EX 1 A public body has seven (7) members, therefore a quorum is four (4) members.  If the same seven-member public body has two (2) vacancies, then there are only five (5) members serving on the public body.  By default, a quorum is still measured as four (4) members. 

EX 2 A general law creates a seven (7) member public body and states that a quorum of that body shall be a majority of the members serving on the body.  There are two (2) vacancies on the public body, leaving (5) members serving.  Because the general law creating the body specifies that quorum is measured as a majority of the five (5) serving members, quorum is now three (3) members. 

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