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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Conducting Meetings During Covid-19

One of the most frequently asked questions we have received from our local government clients during the Covid-19 stay at home order relates to conducting "virtual" board and council meetings so we have shared our general thoughts on this topic below.

Q: Our corporate authorities have decided to meet over GoToMeeting for its next regular board meeting to comply with the Governor's stay at home order. Do we still have to meet in a manner that is open and convenient to the public?

A: Yes. Although Executive Order No. 2020-07 (issued on March 16, 2020) suspended some of the requirements for in-person attendance at meetings to allow electronic attendance, it did not suspend the Open Meetings Act generally. Meetings must still be held in a manner that is "open and convenient" to the public and there still needs to be an opportunity for public comment. Of course, public bodies still must comply with notice and agenda requirements as well.

During these strange days there will be changes from your normal meeting procedures, but public bodies still cannot conduct business privately. Consideration should be given to how the public can at least see or listen to the meeting virtually without needing to attend in person. Instructions for how members of the public can see, listen, and/or participate in meetings should be listed at the top of each agenda. In addition, instructions for how members of the public can submit public comments should also be listed on the agenda. That might include, for example, listing an email address or cell phone number where members of the public can send written comments in advance of or at the meeting that will be read at the meeting or identifying a call-in number of log-in information where the public can electronically participate in the meeting and provide public comments either through a chat function or through audio or video means during the public comment portion of the meeting. 

The key takeaway is that the Open Meetings Act is still in effect, and meetings of public bodies must still be open to the public, even those meetings that are "virtual" in nature where all or most of the public body is attending electronically.


  1. Do you have to have a physical location for the public to attend the meeting?

  2. Hi Wendy. It does not appear to be a requirement under the Governor's Executive Order that there be a physical location for the meeting. However, if you are conducting a meeting entirely remotely (electronically), you need to ensure that the public can view/hear the meeting (which could be done by video, audio, streaming, or public access channel) and provide the means for the public to provide public comments (which could be via email, text, audio, video, chat, or some other means).

  3. Our Library Board President wants to make it mandatory that all participate virtually. This is meeting with extreme objection from some members that claim they want to meet at the library. It is not the majority. Does the Board President have the authority to insist that the meeting be held remotely, following all other guidelines for offering public comment?

    1. I encourage you to discuss this with your library attorney to ensure compliance with the Governor's Executive Order. The Attorney General's guidance on conducting meetings remotely as well as the two recent PAC opinions on remote meetings may be helpful in determining how best to comply with the OMA while conducting a purely remote (i.e., entirely virtual) meeting. Best practices are to ensure there are multiple ways for members of the public to "attend" the meeting and provide public comment. Those options might include providing remote access to members of the public (audio and/or video), call-in and log-in information, streaming the meeting on social media or the library's website, allowing comments to be sent in advance via email or text, use of live "chat" function or other opportunities - your attorney can help you identify what works best for your library. Many public bodies are holding their meetings entirely remotely during the Governor's stay at home order, but they key is ensuring these meetings are not private or secret and the public has adequate opportunities to watch or attend and provide public comments.