AG Coakley Announces New Open Meeting Law Regulations
Regulations Authorize Remote Participation in Meetings under Certain Circumstances
BOSTON – Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced new regulations under the Open Meeting Law that authorize remote participation in meetings by members of public bodies under certain circumstances.
“The purpose of these new regulations is to promote greater participation in government, while upholding the main purpose of the Open Meeting Law – transparency,” said AG Coakley. “While in certain extenuating circumstances members of public bodies are permitted to participate remotely, we encourage physical attendance when at all possible.”
The final regulations, published in the Massachusetts Register on November 11, 2011, authorize remote participation in public meetings, but only for several specific reasons. The AG’s Office first announced proposed regulations governing remote participation in June 2011. Following a two-month public comment period, during which the AG’s Division of Open Government received useful feedback on the proposed regulations from public body members and members of the public, the office held a public hearing in September 2011. A copy of the final regulations can be found on the Attorney General’s Website.
The practice of remote participation must be adopted by the chief executive officer of the municipality for local public bodies, or by a majority vote of the public body for state, county and regional public bodies, before public bodies can use it. If remote participation is adopted, under the new regulations, members of public bodies may use audio or video conferencing to participate in meetings when physical attendance is unreasonably difficult due to personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service, or geographic distance. Other requirements of the law stipulate that members of a public body who participate remotely and all persons present at the meeting location must be clearly audible to each other and that when remote participation is used during a meeting, all votes must be taken by roll call.
The AG continues to believe that members of public bodies should participate in meetings through physical attendance whenever possible. Although remote participation is now permitted, the Open Meeting Law still requires that a quorum of the public body be physically present at the meeting location.
On July 1, 2010, the AG’s Office assumed responsibility for interpretation and enforcement of the Open Meeting Law from the state’s District Attorneys following the passage of the Ethics Reform Act of 2009. Since July 1, 2010, the AG’s Division of Open Government has responded to thousands of inquiries about the law’s requirements, conducted or participated in nearly 50 trainings across the state, and issued dozens of determinations. In October 2011, in an effort to provide greater transparency and access to the office’s decisions, all of the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law determinations became available online through an interactive database, the Open Meeting Law Determination Lookup.
For more information, please visit the Open Meeting Law section of the Attorney General’s website.