Meetings of governing bodies of the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County and the governing bodies of public agencies have to comply with the Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30). The intent behind this statute is to provide the public with information on the conduct of government and ensure that public bodies make decisions openly. We can all help our governing bodies take actions which are compliant with the law by knowing a little about the Act’s requirements which in the end benefits us all.
Governing bodies of public agencies must take “action” which is the transaction of official business such as but not limited to, deliberations, discussions, final actions, adoption of ordinances, resolutions, rules, regulation, orders, directives etc. in a meeting that is open to the public. This meeting must be at a date fixed by law or rule or a meeting where there’s advance notice given to the public. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, questions often arise as to what constitutes an action. Failure to take action at an open public meeting will result in the action being void. Also, members of the governing body risk sanctions for knowing violations of the Act.
There are a few exceptions to the requirement for an open public meeting such as a meeting of a quasi-judicial body which relates to a quasi-judicial matter between named parties or matters governed by the Washington Administrative Procedures Act.
Finally, there are actions which need to be taken by governing bodies of public agencies which require some discussion by the governing body in a confidential manner mainly because a discussion open to the public could be detrimental. The governing body may convene an executive session only during an open public meeting and only to discuss specifically statutorily enumerated issues. As you can imagine, it is not always clear whether a topic is fit for an executive session. A few examples of issues which may be discussed in executive session include the acquisition of real estate when public knowledge would cause a likelihood of increased price and when discussing litigation or potential litigation if public knowledge regarding the discussion is likely to result in adverse legal or financial consequences.
There are some more detailed nuances in Act which lawyers that practice municipal law can help explain as issues of concern arise. I do hope that this short introduction to this law will at least help increase awareness of these requirements.
Simi Jain, Attorney
Disclaimer: This article and blog are intended to inform the reader of general legal principles applicable to the subject area. They are not intended to provide legal advice regarding specific problems or circumstances. Readers should consult with competent counsel with regard to specific situations.
To receive updates or be informed when we post a new article.