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Thursday, January 2, 2020

Summary of PAC Binding Opinions of 2019 (OMA opinions)

As we do every year, we are summarizing the Public Access Counselor binding opinions for 2019. Today's post will summarize the opinions that relate to Open Meetings Act complaints and tomorrow we will summarize the FOIA-related opinions.

PAC Op. 19-002 (public comment period restriction without rules)
In PAC 19-002, the PAC found a school district in violation of the Open Meetings Act when it restricted the public comment period at a school board meeting to 15 minutes without having an established and recorded public comment rule to that effect. The PAC reviewed the District's "Board Policy Manual" which did include a limit on public comment at meetings of 3 minutes per person. However, the PAC noted in its opinion that the school board's manual did not include a reference to a 15 minute total cap on public comment. PAC rejected board’s argument that past practice authorized the restriction.

PAC Op. 19-004 (public recital)
In PAC Op. 19-004, the PAC found a public body in violation of the Open Meetings Act for failure to provide an adequate public recital of the business being conducted before taking final action on a resolution. A school district board voted on "Resolution 2019-1 authorizing a Notice to Remedy." Shortly thereafter, a newspaper reporter filed a complaint with the PAC arguing that the board did not give any public details about the resolution prior to voting on it. The PAC contacted the school board for a response, and the school board provided copies of the agenda, minutes, closed session recording, resolution, and the "Notice to Remedy." The school board attorney explained to the PAC that the resolution number and title were read aloud prior to the board voting on the resolution, as reflected in the minutes of the meeting. Nevertheless, the PAC found that in this case, the school board violated the OMA because it failed to disclose enough detail about the resolution prior to voting on it, including disclosing the name of the teacher being served with the Notice to Remedy).

PAC Op. 19-009 (resident only restriction during public comment)
In PAC Op. 19-009, the PAC found a city in violation of the Open Meetings Act for prohibiting a member of the public from addressing the city council at a council meeting because she was not a city resident. The PAC first noted that the city council had not adopted public comment rules so the council could not impose a restriction on public comment. The PAC rejected the city's reliance on Roberts Rules of Order as its public comment rules since the city could not identify specific rules addressing public comment at meetings. Since it had no rules in place, the city council could not impose a "resident only" restriction. But, even if the city council had adopted a "resident only" rule for public comment, the PAC stated that such a rule would violate the OMA because the public comment requirement of the OMA allows "any person" to address the public body, whether they are a resident or not. 


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