Posted on

Opinion Make Sure Meetings Stay Open In Montana

Each year at this time, newspapers across the nation recognize Sunshine Week as a reminder of the importance of transparency in government. The role of journalists include making sure government agencies follow open meeting laws including public notices.

In Montana, we’re fortunate that the Freedom of Information hotline, 406-4428670, is dedicated to keeping the operations of government in Montana open to public observation and participation.

Here is some brief information regarding Freedom of Information laws from that readers might find interesting.

* Do open meetings/right to participate requirement apply to informal gatherings of a quorum of the members? Yes. Two of three members of a body riding together in a motor vehicle to a meeting, going out for coffee or lunch to discuss any public business are activities that are covered by open-meetings/ right-to-participate laws regardless of the formality of the setting.

* Can the public body discuss matters that are not on the agenda? No. The right to observe decision-making activities of a public body is conditioned on the public having advanced notice of the topic of the discussion. That’s the purpose of the agenda. When a body discusses matters which were not on the agenda, both the right to observe and the right to participate are violated.

Does passing notes, emailing, texting or whispering among members of governmental bodies violate the open meeting act? Yes. Although there are no court cases or sections of statute that support these attempts at secrecy, the constitutional right is to observe deliberations. If the deliberations consist in part of the passing of notes or the exchanging of emails, text messages or whispered comments, the public is being deprived of its constitutional right to observe the deliberations of the public body and to have access to public documents. This is little different than if the board met behind closed doors.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *