PAC Issues Binding Opinion Regarding Public Business Discussions at Informal “Meet and Greet”
Recently, the Public Access Counselor (PAC) issued a binding opinion concerning the Open Meetings Act (OMA). In the decision, the PAC found that the public body violated the OMA by holding an improper meeting when it hosted a “meet and greet” in which a quorum of board members was present, without following the requirements of the OMA.
Here, the complainant alleged that a quorum of board members discussed public business at a gathering without providing appropriate notice and complying with other OMA requirements. In response, the board argued that the meeting did not need to comply with the OMA because it was an informal “meet and greet” to allow staff to meet and direct general questions to the three board members in attendance.
The PAC ultimately determined that the “meet and greet” qualified as a “meeting” under the OMA, and therefore, that the requirements of the OMA applied. In support of its determination, the PAC reasoned that a majority of a quorum was present at the “meet and greet” because three members of the seven-member board were present. While the mere presence of a majority of a quorum of board members does not necessarily constitute a “meeting” subject to OMA, the PAC found that the board members participated in discussions and answered staff questions related to public business, including staff salaries, employment status, insurance benefits, board member conduct, and building and maintenance taxes. It was not a mere social gathering as the board claimed. The PAC also found that the exchange of information between board members and staff that occurred at the “meet and greet” could inform future action taken by the board and thus, constituted discussions of public business.
The PAC also made clear that the requirements of the OMA are not limited to those gatherings in which public bodies take formal action. Instead, the PAC stated that the format and substantive nature of the gathering dictates whether a gathering is a “meeting” under the OMA. OMA requirements can apply to informal sessions or conferences if those gatherings involve the discussion of public business, as was the case here. Therefore, the PAC concluded that the requirements of the OMA applied to the “meet and greet”, regardless that the board took no formal action or vote.
Members of a public body should remain mindful that when interacting with a majority of a quorum of their peers, regardless of the formality of the setting, the OMA may be implicated depending on the nature of the discussion. If you have any questions regarding this decision or any FOIA matters, please contact one of the authors of this alert or any Franczek attorney.