What meetings are covered by the Open Meeting Law?
With certain exceptions, all meetings of a public body must be open to the public. A meeting is generally defined as "a deliberation by a public body with respect to any matter within the body's jurisdiction." As explained more fully below,
These four questions will help determine whether a communication constitutes a meeting subject to the law:
- is the communication between or among members of a public body;
- if so, does the communication constitute a deliberation;
- does the communication involve a matter within the body's jurisdiction; and
- if so, does the communication fall within an exception listed in the law?
What constitutes a public body?
While there is no comprehensive list of public bodies, any multi-member board, commission, committee or subcommittee within the executive or legislative branches* of state government, or within any county, district, city, region or town, if established to serve a public purpose, is subject to the law. The law includes any multi-member body created to advise or make recommendations to a public body, and also includes the governing board of any local housing or redevelopment
*Although the Legislature itself is not a public body subject to the Open Meeting Law, certain legislative commissions must follow the Law's requirements.
Boards of selectmen and school committees (including those of charter schools) are certainly subject to the Open Meeting Law, as are subcommittees of public bodies, regardless of whether their role is decision-making or advisory. Individual government officials, such as a town manager or police chief, and members of their staff are not subject to the law, and so they may meet with one another to discuss public business without needing to comply with Open Meeting Law requirements. This exception for individual officials to the general Open Meeting Law does not apply where such officials are serving as members of a multiple-member public body that is subject to the law.
Bodies appointed by a public official solely for the purpose of advising the official on a decision that individual could make alone are not public bodies subject to the Open Meeting Law. For example, a school superintendent appoints a five-member advisory body to assist her in nominating candidates for
What are the exceptions to the definition of a meeting?
There are five exceptions to the definition of a meeting under the Open Meeting Law.
- Members of a public body may conduct an on-site inspection of a project or program; however, they may not deliberate at such gatherings;
- Members of a public body may attend a conference, training program or event; however, they may not deliberate at such gatherings;
- Members of a public body may attend a meeting of another public body provided that they communicate only by open participation; however, they may not deliberate at such gatherings;
- Meetings of quasi-judicial boards or commissions held solely to make decisions in an adjudicatory proceeding are not subject to the Open Meeting Law; and
- Town Meetings, which are subject to other legal requirements, are not governed by the Open Meeting Law. See, e.g. G.L. c. 39, §§ 9, 10 (establishing procedures for Town Meeting).
The Attorney General interprets the exemption for "quasi-judicial boards or commissions" to apply only to certain state "quasi-judicial" bodies and a very limited number of public bodies at other levels of government whose proceedings are specifically defined as "agencies" for purposes of G.L. c. 30A.
We have received several inquiries about the exception for Town Meeting and whether it applies to meetings outside of a Town Meeting session by Town Meeting members or Town Meeting committees or to deliberation by members of a public body – such as a board of selectmen – during a session of Town Meeting. The Attorney General interprets this exemption to mean that the Open Meeting Law does not reach any aspect of Town Meeting. Therefore, the Attorney General will not investigate complaints alleging violations in these situations. Note, however, that this is a matter of interpretation and future Attorneys General may choose to apply the law in such situations.
The complete law, as well as the Attorney General's regulations, training materials, and determinations and declinations as to