AG Coakley Releases Figures on First Year Enforcement of Open Meeting Law
In First Year, Office Has Responded To More Than 2,000 Inquiries; Also Announces Proposed Regulations on Remote Participation
"In our office's first year of Open Meeting Law enforcement we have tried to provide greater transparency in government by conducting thorough investigations, and issuing well reasoned determinations meant to ensure greater compliance with the law going forward," AG Coakley said. "By putting a greater emphasis on education through trainings and access to information online, we hope that both the public bodies and members of the public gain a greater understanding of the Open Meeting Law."
On July 1, 2010, Attorney General Coakley's Office assumed responsibility for interpretation and enforcement of the OML from the state's District Attorneys following the passage of the Ethics Reform Act of 2009.
To ensure a continued and consistent focus on the Open Meeting Law, AG Coakley created the Division of Open Government. The Division's mission is to educate individuals about the OML, enforce the OML, and act as a readily accessible resource for members of public bodies, members of the public, municipal officials, and the press. The Division has focused its efforts on educating members of public bodies and the public at large about the revisions to the OML, establishing a complaint process, and resolving Open Meeting Law complaints.
To date, the Office has responded to more than 2,000 telephone and email inquiries from members of public bodies, municipal counsel, and the public, investigated 116 complaints, resolved 51 cases, including issuing 34 determinations and informally resolving 17 complaints. Members of the Division of Open Government staff have conducted or participated in 47 trainings, including seven regional educational forums on the OML across the Commonwealth between March and June.
A priority of the Division is providing education and guidance about the OML. Accordingly, the Division of Open Government has developed a host of publicly accessible resources intended to promote understanding and compliance with the OML:
- Online: The Division developed a comprehensive website that provides online access to Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Open Meeting Law, a Guide to the Open Meeting Law, as well as the Division's determinations, all designed to provide guidance about the Division's interpretation and enforcement of the OML.
- Trainings: The Division has conducted or participated in 47 in-person trainings for members of public bodies, municipal officials, municipal counsel; and members of the public. On March 2, 2011, the Division held the first of seven regional Open Meeting Law educational forums in Brookline where we provided an overview of the law. Other regional educational forums were conducted in Dracut (3/23); Bridgewater (4/6); Dalton (5/11); Barnstable (5/18); Northampton (5/25) and Worcester (6/1).
The AG's Office also announces proposed regulations authorizing remote participation in public meetings in certain circumstances.
If the regulations are adopted after the public hearing process, members of public bodies will be allowed to participate in meetings remotely in situations where physical attendance would be unreasonably difficult. The Attorney General continues to believe that all members of public bodies should participate in meetings through physical attendance. The Open Meeting Law still requires a quorum of the public body to be physically present at a meeting where members are participating remotely.
The Attorney General will hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, § 2. The hearing will be held at One Ashburton Place, 21 st Floor, Boston, on September 6, 2011, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Copies of the proposed amendments to the regulations may be found at www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting or obtained at One Ashburton Place, 20 th Floor, Boston, Massachusetts.
The public is also encouraged to submit written comments on the proposed regulations. Comments should be limited to the proposed regulations only. Please direct comments to Amy Nable, Director, Division of Open Government, Office of the Attorney General, One Ashburton Place, 20 th Floor, Boston, MA 02108 or by sending comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments should be submitted by September 6, 2011.
For more information on the Open Meeting Law, see the Attorney General's Open Meeting Law webpage.