Had some questions recently about board retreats or training sessions, and thought I would remind my fellow board members of the laws.
Statement of purpose
The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states,
“It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner so that our citizens shall have the opportunity to observe the performance of public officials and to monitor the decisions that are made by such officials in formulating and executing public policy; and further, it is vital that citizens have easy access to public records in order that the society remain free and democratic. Toward these ends, and to further the accountability of government to the citizens of this State, this chapter is adopted, and shall be construed.”
Which government meetings are open to the public?
The law states that all gatherings of a quorum of members of a public body, whether formal, informal or through video conferencing, with the intention of discussing public business are considered meetings.
All public bodies are required to give at least 7 days notice for all meetings. The notice must include the intended time and location of the meeting as well as a tentative agenda. The agenda is not binding and may be changed prior to the meeting. Special or rescheduled meetings require a 24-hour notice.
Meeting that are regularly held by a division of the state, i.e. counties, Delaware cities or school districts, must be held in a public place within the geographic jurisdiction of that public body.
The public must be notified of meetings seven days ahead of time. This notice must include an agenda along with the date, time, and place. If sessions are changed then they do not have to meet the seven day requirement but must explain the reason why for the reschedule. Meeting notices can include posting at the office holding the meeting or the office where the meetings are regularly held.
When the agenda is not available as of the time of the initial posting of the public notice it shall be added to the notice at least 6 hours in advance of said meeting, and the reasons for the delay in posting shall be briefly set forth on the agenda.
Meeting minutes must be recorded for all government meetings, even closed ones. The minutes must include a record of those members present and a record, by individual members, of each vote taken and action agreed upon.
Such minutes or portions thereof, and any public records pertaining to executive sessions conducted pursuant to this section, may be withheld from public disclosure so long as public disclosure would defeat the lawful purpose for the executive session, but no longer.
There are exceptions to holding the open meeting law where a government entity may hold a closed session. These closed sessions are referred to as “Executive sessions and may occur for the following reasons:
Privacy is granted for meetings when discussion of an individual citizen’s qualifications to hold a job or pursue training unless the citizen requests that such a meeting be open
Strategy sessions, including those involving legal advice or opinion from an attorney-at-law, with respect to collective bargaining or pending or potential litigation, but only when an open meeting would have an adverse effect on the bargaining or litigation position of the public body.
Discussion of documents that have been defined as “not a public record” under the Delaware Freedom of Information Act.
Personnel matters in which the names, competency and abilities of individual employees or students are discussed, unless the employee or student requests that such a meeting be open.
An executive session can be convened by a majority vote of members present at a meeting. This must happen at a public meeting where a closed session is recorded in the minute sessions. The purpose of such executive sessions are limited to public business but cannot be voted on at that time.