The Open Meetings Act applies to Boards and Commissions.
The Open Meetings Act (D.C. Official Code § 2-571 et seq.) amends the DC Administrative Procedure Act (DC APA) to:
- require that board and commission meetings be open to the public;
- permit certain board and commission meetings to be closed;
- establish public notice requirements for board and commission meetings;
- establish electronic recording requirements for board and commission meetings;
- establish the District of Columbia Office of Open Government with the power to enforce violations of the Open Meetings Law and issue advisory opinions on the Open Government Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); and
- provide that the Office of Open Government can train public bodies on the Open Government Act.
What is a meeting under the act?
A “meeting” is defined as “any gathering of a quorum of the members of a public body … at which the members consider, conduct, or advise on public business, whether in person, by telephone, electronically, or by other means of communication”.
The following activities are excluded from definition of “meeting”:
- A chance or social gathering;
- A press conference; and
- Email exchanges between members.
What is a “public body” under the act?
A “public body” is defined as “any government council, including the Council of the District of Columbia, board, commission or similar entity, including a board of directors of an instrumentality, a board which supervises or controls an agency, or an advisory body that takes official action by the vote of its members convened for that purpose”.
Which public bodies are excluded from the act?
The following public bodies are excluded from the coverage of the act:
- A District agency or instrumentality (other than the board which supervises or controls an agency or the board of directors of an instrumentality);
- The District of Columbia courts;
- Governing bodies of individual public charter schools;
- The Mayor’s cabinet;
- The professional or administrative staff of public bodies when they meet outside the presence of a quorum of those bodies; or
- Advisory Neighborhood Commissions – existing open meeting law still applies.
When is a meeting considered open?
A meeting is considered open to the public if:
- The public is permitted to be physically present;
- The news media, as defined by D.C. Official Code § 16-4701, is permitted to be physically present; or
- The meeting is televised.
What are the reasons for which a meeting may be closed?
Meetings may be closed for 14 reasons, following a vote in public to close the meeting:
- A law or court order requires it;
- To discuss, establish, or instruct the public body’s staff or negotiating agents on contracts;
- To discuss negotiating incentives relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses or business activities in the District;
- To consult with an attorney to obtain legal advice and to preserve the attorney-client privilege
- Planning, discussing, or conducting specific collective bargaining negotiations;
- Preparation, administration, or grading of scholastic, licensing, or qualifying examinations;
- To prevent premature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize, or similar award;
- To discuss substantial dangers to public health and safety, and to receive briefings by staff members, legal counsel, law enforcement officials, or emergency service officials concerning these methods and procedures;
- To discuss disciplinary matters;
- To discuss personnel matters;
- To discuss trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from outside the government;
- To train and develop members of a public body and staff;
- To deliberate upon a decision in an adjudication action or proceeding by a public body exercising quasi-judicial functions; and
- To plan, discuss, or hear reports concerning ongoing or planned investigations.
How much notice is required for meetings?
Except for emergency meetings, notice of meetings must be provided in advance or not less than 48 hours or 2 business days prior to the meeting, by posting on website or in the office, and in the DC Register.
What types of meetings are permitted under the act?
A meeting may be held by video conference, telephone conference, or other electronic means; provided, that:
- Reasonable arrangements are made to accommodate the public’s right to attend the meeting;
- The meeting is recorded; and
- All votes are taken by roll call.
What sort of records must be maintained of meetings?
All meetings of public bodies, whether open or closed, shall be recorded by electronic means; provided, that if a recording is not feasible, detailed minutes of the meeting shall be kept.
- A copy of the minutes of a meeting shall be made available for public inspection as soon as practicable, but no later than 3 business days after the meeting.
- A copy of the full record, including any recording or transcript, shall be made available for public inspection as soon as practicable, but no later than 7 business days after the meeting.
Who enforces the Open Meetings Law?
The District of Columbia Office of Open Government may bring a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for injunctive or declaratory relief for any violation of this title before or after the meeting in question takes place. A public body may seek an advisory opinion from the Office of Open Government compliance with this title.
A Court may order an appropriate remedy, including requiring additional forms of notice, postponing a meeting, or declaring action taken at a meeting to be void. For willful violations, the court may impose a civil fine of not more than $250 for each violation.
What are the responsibilities of the Office of Open Government?
The Office of Open Government:
- Shall report annually on its activities;
- Issue advisory opinions to public bodies on compliance with the Open Meetings Law;
- Provide training on the Open Meetings Law;
- Issue rules to implement the provisions of the Law;
- May bring suit to enforce violations of the Open Meetings Law; and
- Issue advisory opinions on the implementation of the FOIA Law.