OPEN MEETING LAW
The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to ensure transparency in the deliberations on which public policy is based. Because the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action, the Open Meeting Law requires, with some exceptions, that meetings of public bodies be open to the public. It also seeks to balance the public’s interest in witnessing the deliberations of public officials with the government’s need to manage its operations efficiently.
Open Meeting Law Quick Facts
- 48 Hour Notice is required. All public bodies (i.e. Committees, Boards, subcommittees) are required to post a meeting or work session notice and agenda 48 hours before holding a meeting. The 48 hour time period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal Holidays.
- Meeting notices must include committee name, location, date, time and agenda.
- Notices must include an agenda or list of topics anticipated to be discussed at the meeting. Common meeting practices such as taking roll call or adjourning the meeting do not need to be posted on the notice but any deliberations or discussion topics should be.
- The items listed as the agenda are those reasonably anticipated by the Chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed and other items not listed may also be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law.
- Meeting notices are to be filed with the Town Clerk’s office and 1.) posted on the bulletin board at the Town Hall to be visible while the Town Hall is open, and 2.) posted on the Municipal Website Meetings Calendar, as long as the date and time that the notice was posted is conspicuously recorded on the notice.
- Official minutes must contain detailed information: names of members, summaries of matters discussed, a list of documents used and all decisions made and the actions taken, including a record of all votes (yeas, nays and abstentions). Documents and other exhibits (i.e. maps, photos) need to be kept as part of the official record of the session.
- The Law requires that such minutes be made available to the public within a reasonable period of time after the conclusion of any given meeting. A time frame of two to four weeks may be considered reasonable under most circumstances but isn't mandatory.
- Citizens making complaints of Open Meeting Law violations must file written complaints with the public body first within 30 days of the violation. Then the body submits reply to complainant and Attorney General’s Office.
Meeting Posting Form
If you are a member of a committee or Board and wish to post a meeting with the Town a copy of the meeting notice form can be found by clicking here
How to Post a Meeting
All meetings and work sessions must be posted with the Town Clerk's office. Meeting notices need to be time stamped in at the Town Clerk’s office and posted on the bulletin board at the Town Hall a minimum of 48 hours before the meeting is to take place. The 48 hour time period does not include Saturdays, Sundays or legal Holidays.
Meeting notices must contain the full proper name of the committee, date, time, location, and list the topics that the Chair reasonably anticipates will be discussed at the meeting. The listing of topics must contain enough specificity to give the public an understanding of each topic that will be discussed. It is not sufficient to list broad topic categories, such as “Old Business.” New Business may be used for public comment/open forum periods.
If you wish to use a room at the Town Hall for your meeting, you must reserve the room with the Receptionist ether in person or by calling 508-394-8300. Even if you post a meeting notice, if you did not reserve the room you may be unable to hold the meeting if another committee has reserved the space.
Committees are required to maintain accurate minutes of all meetings. The minutes, which must be created and approved in a timely manner, must state the committee name as appointed (no abbreviations), date, time and place of the meeting, a list of the members present and absent, the decisions made, and actions taken, including a record of all votes. The minutes must include a summary of the discussions on each subject. In addition, the minutes must include a list of documents and any other exhibits used at the meeting. A copy of meeting minutes need to be kept on file at the Town Clerk's office. Documents and exhibits do not need to be filed but should be kept with the Committee's records.
The law requires that all approved minutes be made available to the public within a reasonable period of time. A time frame of two to four weeks is considered reasonable, but not mandatory. If meeting minutes are requested by the public, they must be made available within 10 days, whether they have been approved or are in draft form.
While all meetings of public bodies must be open to the public, certain topics may be discussed in executive, or closed, session. Before going into an executive session, the chair of the committee must: first convene in open session, state the reason for the session without compromising the purpose for which the session was called, state whether the public body will reconvene at the end of the session and take a roll call of the committee that enter the session. For more information on Executive Session please visit the Attorney General's website.
Filing a Complaint
If you believe that a state, county or municipal employee has violated the open meeting law, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General's office. Information on the complaint process can be found here.
Attorney General's Office Contact Information
You can also call the Attorney General's office directly if you have any questions:
Southeastern Massachusetts Office
Office of Attorney General Maura Healey
105 William Street
New Bedford, MA 02740-6257
Telephone: (508) 990-9700
TTY: (617) 727-4765
Fax: (508) 990-8686