Compliance with Open Meetings Act mixed, survey concludes

  In an Nov. 28 letter to Robert Spagnoletti, chair of the D.C. Board of Ethics and Public Accountability, the Coalition reported findings regarding public bodies' compliance with the Open Meetings Act since it took effect in April 2011. Of the five bodies surveyed, Kathy Patterson, Coalition president, said:first-year compliance with basic requirements of the law was very mixed, and there were major gaps.

  • The State Board of Education had not complied at all. For the rest:
  • Even the most basic notice of meetings varied; three entities did fine, the others either gave none at all or missed many (e.g., Housing Authority Commissioners gave proper notice in only 3 of 15); advance agendas were missing or infrequent at three.
  • Meetings were closed 16 times out of our universe of 41, but entities rarely gave advance notice or the basis of closures (though the statute has an escape clause; advance notice is required if feasible); and only a quarter of the records of closed meetings showed the body had actually voted closure on the record.
  • Minutes are provided inconsistently:  fully available in one entity, but not at all or no more than half the time in the other three.  A “full record” (recording or transcript) was even more rare; none had such a full record posted for all meetings it had noticed; two did for about half their meetings. 

See more details in the table below.

  Patterson said the findings underscore the importance of promptly selecting a director and establishing the Open Government Office. The Coalition hopes the Board can share our sense of urgency about the mandate to enforce the Open Government statute, she added.  As the law provides no private right of action, the work of the Office is doubly important.

First Year Open Meetings Act Compliance

OGC Review of Five D.C. Boards and Commissions[1]

Board or commission

Total meetings 2011-12 for which we found data in August 2012

Number open or closed[2]

Info before meeting

Info after meeting

Notice

Agenda

Statutory basis of closing

Record vote to close

Minutes

Full record

O

C

Police Complaints Board

5

3

2

5

0

1

1

5

0

Taxi Comm’n

7

4

3

7

7

0

3

3

2

Board of Elections and Ethics

14

7

7

14

10

0

0

7

8

Housing Authority Comm’n

15

11

4

3

5

4

0

0

0

State Board of Education

0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Totals

41

25

16

29

22

5

4

15

10



[1]OGC review scope and methods: In summer 2012 we looked for information on the web for five D.C. public bodies. For each, we sought details of meetings of public bodies in the 12-month period since the Open Meetings Act went into effect April 1, 2011. To evaluate compliance, we reviewed each meeting and counted details of whether each body did what the law requires:

  • gave advance notice of each meeting including agenda, any planned closing and reason;
  • justified any proposed closing of a meeting with reference to an exemption in the law;
  • in the meeting, took a vote on the record (shown in minutes) to approve any closing;
  • published both meeting minutes and a full record; and
  • made all these records reasonably accessible on its web site.

We didn’t assess a number of dimensions where the data are more challenging, for example, whether public bodies held unreported meetings, or whether notices are timely and accurate.

[2]Meeting tallied as “closed” if any portion closed.

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