AG Coakley Updates Public on Open Meeting Law Efforts in Light of “Sunshine Week”
Unveils New Checklists to Assist with Compliance, Updates to Open Meeting Law Guide
BOSTON – In light of “Sunshine Week,” Attorney General Martha Coakley today provided an update on the work of her office’s Division of Open Government, which assumed responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of the Open Meeting Law (“OML”) on July 1, 2010. The AG’s office has also created a series of checklists to assist public bodies in complying with the law and released an updated version of the Open Meeting Law Guide.
“In the past year, we have continued our efforts to educate public bodies and members of the public about the law to ensure clarity and compliance,” AG Coakley said. “We’ve conducted dozens of trainings across the state, issued more than 200 written determinations to date, and responded to thousands of inquiries about the law. We will continue our efforts to educate people about the law’s requirements in order to encourage greater transparency and good governance.”
Upon assuming responsibility for enforcement of the OML, AG Coakley created the Division of Open Government (“the Division”) to ensure a continued and consistent focus on the law by educating individuals about the OML, enforcing the OML, and acting as a readily accessible resource for members of public bodies, members of the public, municipal officials, and the press.
The Division of Open Government has created a host of publicly accessible resources intended to assist the public with understanding and complying with the OML. Today, the Division unveiled a series of OML checklists created to assist public bodies in complying with the law. The checklists are intended to be used as educational guides, and cover subjects including entering into executive session, posting a meeting notice, and creating and approving meeting minutes. These checklists are available on the AG’s website.
The Division also released an updated version of its Open Meeting Law Guide. The revisions include information about changes to the AG’s OML regulations that occurred during the past year, as well as guidance from recent determinations made by the Division in response to OML complaints. The updated Open Meeting Law Guide is posted on the AG’s website.
“As local officials, member communities of the MMA are very supportive of open government,” said Peter Hechenbleikner, Reading Town Manager and outgoing Massachusetts Municipal Association (“MMA”) representative on the Open Meeting Law Advisory Commission. “While we are sometimes challenged by the details of the Open Meeting Law, we support the philosophy behind it, and thank the Attorney General’s Division of Open Government staff for their hard work and perseverance in developing the FAQs, regulations, and other implementation tools. The Division and staff keep a keen eye on the effect of the Law and regulations on those who are bound by the Law. The staff of the Division of Open Government has been exemplary in their educational outreach, and also in reaching out to understand the impact of the law on those who are subject to it.”
Since assuming responsibility for enforcement of the OML, the Division has responded to more than 6,000 telephone and email inquiries from members of public bodies, municipal counsel, and the public, received 472 complaints, resolved 311 complaints, and issued more than 200 written determinations, which can all be found on the OML Determination Lookup page.
In 2012, the most frequently occurring violations of the OML were insufficiently detailed meeting notices; deliberation outside of a properly posted meeting, including email deliberation; failure to properly convene an executive session; entering into executive session for an improper purpose; and failure to provide open and executive session minutes within 10 days of request. The remedial actions most frequently ordered by the Division in 2012 were immediate and future compliance with the OML; creation or amendment of open or executive session minutes; release of open and executive session minutes; and attendance at training.
The Division has conducted 11 regional educational forums on the OML, reaching more than 660 attendees. Staff from the Division have conducted or participated in 81 additional presentations to organizations representing a cross-section of statewide groups with an interest in the OML.
The AG’s Office will hold five educational forums on the OML throughout the state during the months of March, April and May. The forums will be conducted by attorneys and staff from the AG’s Division of Open Government and are open to the public. For more information or to register, please visit the OML Trainings webpage.
For more information on the Open Meeting Law, see the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law webpage.