September 21, 2010: Recent changes in the state's Open Meeting Law will affect how Community Preservation Committees operate. The changes cover use of meeting agendas, email discussions among committee members, minutes of CPC meetings, conducting executive sessions, and use of documents and exhibits during meetings. The new rules took effect in July 2010, so CPC members should spend a few moments understanding the changes.
One significant change is already generating questions here at the Coalition. CPCs have always been required to post a notice of their meeting 48 hours in advance, but now that notice must include a list of topics that the CPC Chair "reasonably anticipates will be discussed at the meeting."
This leads to the obvious question: If items are not on the posted agenda, may they be discussed at the meeting? Attorney James Lampke, Executive Director of the City Solicitors and Town Counsel Association, says that “prevailing wisdom is that they can.” In a recent article in Municipal Advocate, Lampke wrote that "the idea is not to limit the public's business from being done, but rather to give as much notice as possible to the public as to what business will be discussed." Some are advising CPCs to include a "new business" and "old business" listing on the agenda so that the public is forewarned that other matters may be discussed.
Good sources of information on the new Open Meeting Law
Attorney Lampke's article is an excellent overview of some of the most important changes in the law. The Municipal Advocate, a publication of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, also published an informative top ten list of changes to the open meeting law, written by attorney Brian W. Riley of Kopelman and Paige. Lastly, you can download the new "Guide to the Open Meeting Law" from the Attorney General's office.
A new division within the Attorney General's office is charged with enforcing the law, implementing the new provisions, and providing guidance to cities and towns as well as other public bodies. For more information, contact the Division of Open Government.
What are some other topics in the law that might affect CPCs?
Documents used at meetings: All documents or exhibits used in an open session must now be maintained in the official records of the meeting. That would include exhibits that guests bring to the meeting to distribute or show CPC members. The CPC must now keep a copy of such items in the meeting records, and meeting minutes must include a listing of each document and exhibit used at the meeting.
Email Communications: According to the Attorney General's open meeting guide, the law defines deliberation as “an oral or written communication through any medium, including electronic mail, between or among a quorum of a public body on any public business within its jurisdiction. Distributing a meeting agenda, scheduling or procedural information, or reports or documents that may be discussed at the meeting will not constitute deliberation, so long as the material does not express the opinion of a member of the public body. However, e-mail exchanges between or among a quorum of members of a public body discussing matters within the body's jurisdiction may constitute deliberation, even where the sender of the email does not ask for a response from the recipients.”
Public Speaking at a CPC Meeting: Although anyone has a right to attend meetings of public bodies, members of the public may not address the public body without permission of the Chair.