AG Coakley Issues Emergency Open Meeting Law Regulation
Regulation Clarifies Rules about Restrictions on Remote Participation
BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office issued an emergency regulation that clarifies the Opening Meeting Law regulations that explain how adopting authorities can restrict the use of remote participation by members of public bodies.
“Through questions asked of our office, we realized that there is currently considerable confusion about who may impose additional restrictions on public bodies’ use of remote participation, and what form those restrictions may take,” said AG Coakley. “Many communities are still considering whether and how to adopt the practice of remote participation, so we felt it was important to clarify this aspect of the law immediately.”
This new regulation replaces 940 CMR 29.10(8), which currently reads:
Effect on Bylaws or Policies. These regulations do not prohibit any municipality or public body from adopting bylaws or policies that prohibit or further restrict the use of remote participation by public bodies within its jurisdiction.
The new regulation reads as follows:
Further Restriction by Adopting Authority. These regulations do not prohibit any person or entity with the authority to adopt remote participation pursuant to 940 CMR 29.10(2) from enacting policies, laws, rules or regulations that prohibit or further restrict the use of remote participation by public bodies within that person or entity’s jurisdiction, provided those policies, laws, rules or regulations do not violate state or federal law.
The Attorney General also posted on her website an accompanying set of Frequently Asked Questions on the topic of further restriction of public bodies’ use of remote participation. The FAQs give examples of permissible restrictions that an adopting authority may impose. For instance, if the practice of remote participation has been adopted by the Board of Selectmen in a town, the Board may adopt a policy saying that no member of any town board may participate remotely in more than three meetings each year, or stating that any public body member who wishes to participate remotely due to geographic distance must be a certain distance from the meeting location for his or her physical attendance to be considered unreasonably difficult. The Board may not, however, adopt a policy that entirely forbids participation for any of the five legally permissible reasons listed in the remote participation regulations.
This emergency regulation will be in effect until August 22, 2012. The Attorney General will hold a public hearing on this regulation pursuant to G.L. c. 30A, § 2. The hearing will be held at One Ashburton Place, 21st Floor, Boston, MA on Wednesday, July 17, 2012 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Copies of this regulation can be found at www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting or may be obtained at One Ashburton Place, 20th Floor, Boston, MA. If any member of the public wishing to attend this hearing seeks special accommodations in accordance with the American with Disabilities Act, please contact Philip Mantyla at 617-963-2055, or at Philip.Mantyla@state.ma.us.
The public is also encouraged to submit written comments on this regulation. Comments should be limited to this regulation only. Please direct comments to Amy Nable, Director, Division of Open Government, Office of the Attorney General, One Ashburton Place, 20th Floor, Boston, MA 02108. Comments may also be submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments must be submitted by July 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m.
On July 1, 2010, the Attorney General’s Office assumed responsibility for enforcement of the Open Meeting Law with respect to local, regional, district, county and state public bodies. Prior to that date, the state’s District Attorneys enforced the law as it pertains to local, regional, district and county public bodies. Since July 1, 2010, AG Coakley’s Division of Open Government has responded to thousands of inquiries about the law’s requirements, conducted or participated in 63 trainings across the state, and issued more than 100 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.