AG Healey Issues Updated Open Meeting Law Guide as Part of "Sunshine Week"
Guide Aims to Better Inform Public and Government Officials about Open Meeting Law
BOSTON – As part of “Sunshine Week,” Attorney General Maura Healey announced today that her office is issuing an updated version of the Open Meeting Law Guide to serve as a continuing resource for public bodies and members of the public seeking to better understand the law’s requirements.
The newly revised guide includes information about recently enacted laws concerning remote participation by members of local commissions on disability and discussions by public body members about the recess and continuance of Town Meeting.
The guide also adds information from recent decisions issued by the Attorney General’s Office regarding the level of detail required in meeting notices, the public’s right to record open meetings, the approval of meeting minutes and the release of executive session minutes.
“The Open Meeting Law Guide is one of many resources our office provides to help educate people about the law and its requirements in order to ensure clarity and compliance,” AG Healey said. “The additions to this guide, including guidance from previously issued decisions from our office, further our efforts to promote the pillars of the law: good governance and transparency.”
The AG’s Division of Open Government was created in 2010 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 government, the public, and the press.
“Local officials across the Commonwealth appreciate the importance and seriousness of the Open Meeting Law,” said Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. “Municipal officials are committed to working with the Attorney General’s Division of Open Government to ensure compliance with the law. The staff of the division does excellent work educating the general public on the complexities of the law, and municipal officials and the MMA look forward to continuing to be of assistance in those efforts.”
Since assuming responsibility for enforcement of the OML at all levels of government in July 2010, the division has responded to more than 10,400 telephone and email inquiries from members of public bodies, municipal counsel, and the public. The division has also conducted 25 regional trainings on the law across the state and issued 575 written determinations.
In order to provide greater transparency and access to the office’s decisions, all of the AG’s OML determinations are available online through an interactive database, the Open Meeting Law Determination Lookup.
In 2014, the division issued 155 determinations resolving OML complaints. The most frequently occurring violations were:
- insufficient meeting notices;
- deliberation outside of a properly posted meeting, including email deliberation;
- failure to follow appropriate procedures for entering executive session;
- insufficiently specific or inaccurate meeting minutes; and
- failure to follow the requirements of the OML complaint process.
The remedial actions most frequently ordered by the division were:
- immediate and future compliance with the OML;
- public release of documents, such as emails, used in deliberation outside of an open meeting;
- attendance at a training on the OML or review of all or part of the Attorney General’s online training video;
- creation or amendment of open or executive session minutes; and
- public release of open or executive session minutes.
The division has created a host of resources intended to assist the public with understanding and complying with the OML. These include answers to certain frequently asked questions; checklists about meeting notices, minutes, and executive sessions; and an online training video that can be found on YouTube and can also be accessed through the AG’s OML web page.
In an effort to better inform the public and government officials about the Open Meeting Law and its requirements, the AG’s Office will hold four regional free educational forums in March and April. The AG’s Office will also offer a live web-based training on the law.
The forums are open to the public, and are being offered free of charge. Individuals interested in attending an educational forum or the webinar are asked to register in advance by calling (617) 963-2925 or by emailing OMLTraining@state.ma.us.