BOSTON – As part of “Sunshine Week,” Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office is offering new resources to provide additional transparency and help the public better understand and comply with the Open Meeting Law (OML).
These resources include an updated webpage where people can view pending OML complaints as well as a new training video about accessibility to public meetings. “Our office works to provide transparency and access to information about the Open Meeting Law, and these new resources help to further those efforts,” AG Healey said. “With these additional resources, we aim to offer a wealth of information so that the public can better understand and follow the law.”
As part of an ongoing commitment to transparency, a new feature on the AG’s website allows people to view information about OML complaints pending with the AG’s Office for review. This resource can be accessed through the AG’s website at www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting under “Open Meeting Law Pending Complaints.” The AG’s OML determinations and declinations are already available online through the AG’s interactive database.
The AG’s Office also unveiled a new training video which provides guidance to public bodies and members of the public on compliance with laws governing accessibility to public meetings and ensuring rights for people with disabilities. The video also covers a recent change to the Open Meeting Law on the use of remote participation for local commissions on disability, and shows public bodies how to comply with this law by making services available, such as assistive listening devices or screen reader technology.
The AG’s Division of Open Government was created in 2010 to ensure a continued and consistent focus on the law by educating individuals about the OML, enforcing the OML, and acting as a readily accessible resource for members of government, the public, and the press.
"City and town leaders across the Commonwealth strongly support the Open Meeting Law," said Geoff Beckwith, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association. "Municipal officials are committed to working with Attorney General Healey and the Division of Open Government to ensure full compliance with the law, and to promote best practices and full transparency at all levels of government. The staff of the division does outstanding work educating local officials and the general public on the complexities of the law, and we look forward to continuing our support and assistance in these efforts."
Since assuming responsibility for enforcement of the Open Meeting Law at all levels of government in 2010, the division has responded to more than 11,000 telephone and email inquiries from members of public bodies, municipal counsel, and the public. The Division has also conducted 34 regional trainings across the state, 12 webinars, and issued more than 720 written determinations.
In 2015, the division issued 200 determination letters resolving OML complaints. The most frequently occurring violations were:
- insufficient meeting notices
- deliberation outside of a properly posted meeting, including email deliberation
- failure to follow appropriate procedures for entering executive session
- insufficiently specific or inaccurate meeting minutes
- failure to follow the requirements of the OML complaint process
The remedial actions most frequently ordered by the division were:
- immediate and future compliance with the OML
- public release of documents, such as emails, used in deliberation outside of an open meeting
- attendance at a training on the OML or review of all or part of the Attorney General's online training video
- creation or amendment of open or executive session minutes
- public release of open or executive session minutes
The division has created a host of resources intended to assist the public with understanding and complying with the OML. These include answers to certain frequently asked questions, checklists about meeting notices, minutes, and executive sessions, and an online training video that can be found on YouTube and can also be accessed through the AG’s OML web page.
In an effort to better inform the public and government officials about the Open Meeting Law and its requirements, the AG’s Office will hold two training events this spring in Auburn and Martha’s Vineyard. The AG’s Office will also offer a live web-based training on the law, and more information is available on the OML Training webpage.
The forums are open to the public, and are being offered free of charge. Individuals interested in attending an educational forum or the webinar are asked to register in advance by emailing OMLTraining@state.ma.us.
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