Public bodies may post agenda online in lieu of posting paper copy
Public bodies don't have to post paper copies of meeting agendas if they post the agendas on their websites and provide them free via email, under a bill signed by Gov. Mary Fallin last month. SB403, which takes effect Nov. 1, requires that the emailed agenda be sent no less than 24 hours -- excluding weekends and state holidays -- prior to a regularly scheduled or special meeting.
The bill also changes the requirements for giving public notice that a special meeting will occur if that notice is provided online and via email. The public body won't have to file that notice with another office but must post it online sooner than the current requirement.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. David Holt, R-OKC, said Friday that Oklahoma City officials requested it.
"OKC has so many agendas they felt the constant window posting was sort of silly, and I didn't disagree. In this day and age, we have better methods," said Holt, who is running for Oklahoma City mayor.
"We wanted to relieve them of the window posting duty, but also incentivize something more useful."
The Open Meeting Act requires public bodies post their agendas for regular and special meetings at least 24 hours in advance -- excluding weekends and state holidays -- in "prominent public view at the principal office of the public body or at the location of the meeting if no office exists." (Okla. Stat. tit. 25, § 311(A)(9))
Those 24 hours must be consecutive, according to a 1997 Attorney General Opinion. Public bodies typically comply by taping the agenda facing outward on a window or glass door so it's visible to the public even if the building is closed.
Another state statute requires public bodies post advance notices and agendas for regularly scheduled meetings on their websites and to do so for special and emergency meetings “[w]hen reasonably possible.” (Okla. Stat. tit. 74, § 3106.2(A))
In other words, the current law requires public bodies post agendas at a physical location and online. Under Holt's bill, public bodies don't have to physically post those agendas if they post them on their websites and maintain a distribution list for people asking to receive the agendas by email.
But the agenda also must be "available to the public in the principal office of the public body or at the location of the meeting during normal business hours at least" 24 hours -- excluding weekends and state holidays -- prior to the meeting. In other words, the agenda wouldn't have to be visibly posted, only be available for reading and copying.
Public Notice for Special Meetings
However, SB403 seems to complicate the public notice that must be given for special meetings.
The Open Meeting Act requires that public bodies give at least 48 hours notice for special meetings. That notice must be given to the Oklahoma Secretary of State Office, county clerk or city clerk depending on the public body conducting the special meeting.
The statute doesn't exclude weekends and state holidays for giving public notice of the special meeting as it does for posting the meeting agenda. For example, a city council wanting to conduct a special meeting at 10 a.m. Monday would give the public notice when it posted the agenda at 10 a.m. Friday.
Under the OMA, the notice of that meeting must be "mailed or delivered" to anyone who has filed a written request for such notices. Public bodies may charge up to $18 per year for personal notification and can require that the request be renewed annually. (§ 311(A)(11))
SB403 adds the language excluding weekends and state holidays to the 48-hour requirement but apparently only when the public body gives notice online and via email. Regarding special meetings, the bill states:
In lieu of the public posting requirements of this paragraph, a public body may elect to follow the requirements found in subparagraph b of paragraph 9 of this subsection [the bill's provision providing for website and email access], provided that forty-eight-hour notice is required for special meetings and that the forty-eight-hour requirement shall exclude Saturdays, Sundays and holidays legally declared by the State of Oklahoma.
In other words, the city council wanting to conduct that special meeting at 10 a.m. Monday would give the public notice by 10 a.m. Thursday if it chooses to do so online and via email.
The bill left intact the simple 48-hour notice that public bodies must give when the notice is filed with the other office and mailed or delivered to anyone who has requested it in writing.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously on March 20 and the House by a 79-10 vote on April 19. Fallin signed the bill on April 25.
Joey Senat, Ph.D. Associate Professor OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, its board of directors or the commentator’s employer. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.