Attorney General’s office clarifies Open Meetings Act

By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun

The official road map, or the rules, for the workings of open meetings – routinely held by local, county and state agencies – prompted keen interest from attendees at Friday’s workshop on the Open Meetings Act and Inspection of Public Records Acts.
The workshop was presented by the state’s Office of the Attorney General and was attended by about 40 people, including city and county employees and elected officials, board members of various groups and agencies and others.
“I think this was a well presented seminar,” said David Foote, a member of the board of the Arch Hurley Conservancy District.
“They covered a lot of information and answered questions that people had been wanting answers to for some time,” he said.
“The open meetings provide to the public the proceedings and decision-making processes of governmental boards, agencies and commissions is crucial to the function of democracy. While the inspection of public records provide the public with access to information about governmental affairs,” according to Attorney General Gary King in the introduction to a compliance guide.
Assistant Attorney General Mary Smith outlined all of the requirements involved in holding an open meeting, the exceptions to holding a closed meeting or session as part of an open meeting, enforcement of the Open Meetings Act and penalties and procedures when violating the act.
The function, restrictions and items allowed on a meeting’s agenda was a strong point of discussion during the workshop.
When the item “other business” is listed on the agenda, a member of the audience wanted to know if any action could be taken on those items..
The items that come before the public body when other business is discussed can only be discussed, no action can be taken at that meeting, Smith said.
“In order to take action on the items they must be placed on the next meeting agenda and specified that those items should have action taken.” Smith said. “No action can be taken – unless it was specifically listed on the agenda for the public to consider and know about,”
Another question was “if the public comment sections is required to be on an agenda?”
“The public comment portion of an open meeting is not required by the Open Meetings Act.”
Members of the audience also focused on the requirements for a public meeting. These include notification of the public about an upcoming meeting, agenda, written minutes and closed meeting exemptions and requirements, Smith said.
A board member of the Arch Hurley District waned to know if “you can discuss the acquisitions and disposal of water rights” in a closed meeting.
“Water rights can be discussed in a closed meeting but any action must be taken in the open meeting itself,” Smith said.
Deputy Attorney General, Alber Lama discussed the function, purpose and exemptions of the Inspection of the Public Records Act.
Lama went over the procedures for requesting public records and defined the exemptions, penalties and denial procedures.
New exemptions, approved last legislative session, will be added to act that tightens up the disclosure of information on discharged veterans from the military, Lama said..
“The reason we hold these seminars is to educate the public bodies on how to better comply with the law and inform the public of their rights and what to expect from their public bodies,” said Smith. “We had a great turnout. I am very pleased with how many people attended.”