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In Focus

After a frustrating few meetings, I feel I need to remind our local governments and residents that the city council, school board and commissioner meetings have to abide by laws...mainly...the Open Meeting Law.

Essentially, the Open Meeting Law (OML) is designed to prevent governments from meeting behind closed doors and keeping information from the public.

Some of what the OML requires includes the posting of notices of meetings in a public place for the community to view, as well as making public a schedule of meetings. Meetings are open to the public and anyone can attend. A notice needs to be posted for special meetings and rescheduled meetings a minimum of three days in advance of the meeting to be held.

There are a few situations where meetings can be closed to the public such as attorney/client privilege, employee evaluations and such. Councils cannot legally close a meeting just because they want to. They have to cite the exact reason they are closing the meeting. They also cannot legally meet as a quorum without proper notice. A quorum is the majority of a council gathering together. For example, if there are five council members, three would make a quorum.

Now, in our small towns, it’s hard to avoid a quorum socially. The best practice is not to gather or discuss issues pertaining to the position that they hold on a council or board.

Every so often a council/board will violate these rules whether it is intentional or not. Even electronic communications such as group text chats and group emails involving a quorum are considered an OML violation. Emails and the like can be requested by the public if they believe the OML has been violated because they are elected public officials.

How is the OML enforced? This is considered a civil matter, so it is not handled by law enforcement. Basically, you have to take them to court.

“The Open Meeting Law provides a civil penalty of up to $300 for intentional violation. A person who is found to have intentionally violated the law in three or more legal actions involving the same governmental body forfeits the right to serve on that body for a time equal to the term the person was serving.”

You, as a resident, can enforce this. Your local newspaper reporters exert due diligence to cover all the governmental meetings and keep an eye on their actions to ensure they are following proper procedure. In short, we are your governmental watchdogs.

If you ever have an issue you would like to bring up to your local government entity, call the clerk and make sure you are included on the agenda. If it’s not on the agenda, they cannot take action on it.

And, please, always remain civil. If you make a scene or threaten anyone, you can be escorted out of a meeting.

Learn more about the OML by visiting

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