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Thursday, April 9, 2020

PAC Finds No OMA Violation for Allowing Public Comment by Email

Earlier this week, we posted about a non-binding PAC opinion that upheld a meeting of a public body that was held remotely in accordance with the Governor's Executive Order authorizing remote meeting participating during the COVID-19 pandemic. A couple of readers (thank you!) forwarded another non-binding PAC opinion that deals with remote meetings held during the pandemic.

In 2020 PAC 62329, a complainant filed a request for review with the PAC challenging a meeting of a county board of health on March 23, 2020 as having violated the OMA's public comment requirement. 

The PAC reviewed the agenda for the board's meeting which stated that the board would be holding a "virtual meeting" and provided an internet link that the public could use to listen to the meeting. The agenda also stated that public comments could be submitted in writing two hours before the meeting and provided an email address where those comments could be submitted. 

Acknowledging the Governor's Executive Order as authorizing public bodies to meet remotely during the pandemic, the PAC found no violation of the OMA in how the board conducted its meeting, stating as follows:
It would be illogical to construe OMA as prohibiting a public body from meeting remotely during public health emergencies because the limitations of meeting in such a format may necessitate a temporary change in the public body's method of allowing public comment.
With respect to how the board handled public comment, the PAC noted that:
Allowing public comment to be submitted via email allowed members of the public to address the substance of their comments to the Board.
In sum, the PAC stated that it was unable to conclude that the board unreasonably restricted public comment under the exigent circumstances that existed at that time. 


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