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Friday, May 19, 2023

City Council Emails Do Not Trigger a Meeting Under OMA

In another advisory opinion, the PAC found no OMA violation where members of a city council emailed about city business because the emails were neither "contemporaneous" or "interactive" communications between a majority of a quorum of the public body. 2023 PAC 76462 and 46463. This same PAC opinion also found no violation where a majority of a quorum attended a campaign event (similar to yesterday's opinion).

The PAC reviewed the emails that were the subject of the request for review to determine whether they were a "contemporaneous" and "interactive" communication between a majority of a quorum of the city council that would trigger a meeting. The PAC noted that it has previously determined that in order to be considered "contemporaneous," the communications must occur in the same general time frame, and that emails sent over a period of hours or days are usually not contemporaneous. The PAC also noted that the communications must be interactive and a single email from one member to other members would generally not violate the OMA unless other members responded.

The first email exchange involved two council members in which the first email was sent and the second email responded to that initial email within 15 minutes. The PAC determined that although the second email was contemporaneous and interactive, because it only involved two council members, it did not trigger a "meeting" since a majority of a quorum of the council was three members. The third email was from a third council member to the other two council members after he had been forwarded a copy of the other emails by a resident. The PAC found that this third email also did not trigger a meeting because it was not contemporaneous or interactive since it was sent three days after the first two emails and nobody responded to the third email. The last email consisted of a council member forwarding an email from the public to two other council members with no response, which the PAC also determined was not "interactive" under the OMA. In short, none of the questioned emails triggered a meeting under the OMA.

With respect to the campaign event, the PAC found that although a majority of a quorum attended the campaign event, there was no evidence presented by the individual who filed the request for review that the members engaged in discussions about city business that would have transformed a political event into a "meeting" under the OMA. The PAC relied on the same legal analysis as in its opinion that we reported on yesterday, including that a gathering will not constitute a "meeting" under the OMA where there is no "examining or weighing of reasons for or against a course of action, no exchange of facts preliminary to a decision, no attempt to reach accord on a specific matter of public business. 

In sum, the PAC found no violation of the OMA in either the email exchanges nor the attendance by a majority of a quorum at the campaign event.


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