Holding Public Body Meetings During Times of Emergency
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health recommendations for social distancing, questions have arisen around how local government public body meetings can be held safely and still be in compliance with the Open Meeting Law. Minnesota Statutes, sections 13D.021 and 13D.04 answer most of these questions.
Section 13D.021 permits meetings by telephone or other electronic means in some emergency situations, including a health pandemic, if certain conditions are met. Here is a short summary of the conditions:
- the governing body’s presiding officer, chief legal counsel, or chief administrative officer has determined that “an in-person meeting is not practical or prudent” because of a qualifying emergency situation;
- All participating members can hear one another;
- Members of the public at the physical meeting location can hear all discussion "unless attendance at the regular meeting location is not feasible due to the health pandemic";
- At least one member of the public body is present at the meeting location, "unless unfeasible due to the health pandemic"; and
- All votes are taken by roll call.
The Data Practices Office of the Minnesota Department of Administration is the state office with oversight of the Open Meeting law. It further advises, “To the extent practical, public bodies should allow the public to monitor the meeting remotely, pursuant to subdivision 3 of [13D.021]. However, the public body may charge for the costs incurred as a result of those additional monitoring connections.”
Meetings conducted telephonically or by other electronic means are subject to the same notice requirements as in-person meetings. The level of notice required can be found in section 13D.04, and is tied to what kind of meeting it is: regular, special, or emergency.
If you have questions about Open Meeting Law requirements, please contact the Data Practices Office by email at email@example.com or by phone at 651-296-6733 or 800-657-3721.