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March 13, 2020

Legal Update
Kate R. Cook

How can Massachusetts public bodies balance Open Meeting Law requirements while following social distancing recommendations during the COVID-19 state of emergency?

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Under an Executive Order issued on March 12, 2020, state, quasi and local governments may conduct meetings remotely, provided that the public body takes steps to ensure public access to the deliberations of the public body through adequate, alternative means. “Adequate, alternative means” may include, without limitation, providing public access through telephone, internet, or satellite enabled audio or video conferencing or any other technology that enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body in real time.

The Open Meeting Law’s requirement that a quorum of the body and the chair be physically present at the meeting is also suspended. A municipal public body that for reasons of economic hardship and despite best efforts is unable to provide alternative means of public access in real time may instead post on its municipal website a full and complete transcript, recording, or other comprehensive record of the proceedings as soon as practicable afterwards.

All other provisions of the Open Meeting Law, such as the requirements regarding posting notice of meetings and creating and maintaining accurate meeting minutes, as well as the limited, enumerated purposes for holding an executive session, remain in effect. These changes will remain in effect until the Executive Order is rescinded or the State of Emergency is terminated.

For more information about Open Meeting Law compliance and other government law questions contact Kate R. Cook.