Frequently Asked Questions about Open Meetings
View the 2019 Idaho Open Meeting Law Manual
PUBLIC BODIES OR AGENCIES COVERED BY THE OPEN MEETING LAW
Question No. 1: What public bodies or agencies are subject to the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law provides: "[A]ll meetings of a governing body of a public agency shall be open to the public and all persons shall be permitted to attend any meeting except as otherwise provided by this act. . . ."3 "Governing body" is defined to mean the members of any public agency "with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter."4 "Public agency" is defined to encompass various categories of governmental entities and subdivisions at all levels of government.5 The governing bodies of public agencies that are created by or pursuant to statute, as well as public agencies that are created by the Idaho Constitution, are subject to the Open Meeting Law.6 The only public agencies that are statutorily exempt from the Open Meeting Law are the courts and their agencies and divisions, the judicial council and the district magistrates commission.7 Deliberations of the Board of Tax Appeals, the Public Utilities Commission and the Industrial Commission, in a fully submitted contested case proceeding, are also exempted from the requirement that they take place in an open public meeting.8
Question No. 2: Does the Open Meeting Law apply to a public agency headed by a single individual as contrasted with a multi-member body?
Answer: No. Section 74-202(5) defines a governing body to mean "the members of any public agency that consists of two (2) or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter." (Emphasis added.) By definition, the Open Meeting Law applies only to a governing body which consists of two or more members and thus does not apply to a public agency headed by a single individual.
This also extends to employees of a public agency headed by a single individual; meetings held by employees of a department headed by a single individual (or multiple parties, for that matter) do not have to be open to the public. An illustrative example of this principle arose in the 2008 case of Safe Air For Everyone v. Idaho State Dep't of Agriculture.9 There, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) invited representatives from federal, state, and tribal agencies to a meeting to discuss issues surrounding crop residue burning. The meeting was closed to the public. Several employees of the ISDA attended the meeting, but the director did not.
An environmental group sued the ISDA, arguing that the employees' participation in the meeting constituted a violation of the Open Meeting Law because the director had delegated decision- making authority to the employees, thus making the employees a "governing body." The Supreme Court disagreed, stating that:
By definition, a 'governing body' [under the Act] must have 'the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter.' The employees do not have 'the authority' to make decisions for or recommendations to the ISDA. Any decision they make can be countermanded by a supervisor, and their supervisor can likewise deny them permission to make recommendations. . . . [T]he authority to make decisions for an agency or recommendations to an agency must be statutorily based.10
Of course, it should be noted that under the Idaho Administrative Procedure Act (IDAPA) various state agencies must hold open public meetings when they adopt rules or when they determine certain contested cases.11 The open public meeting requirements of the IDAPA apply regardless of whether the public agency is headed by a single individual or by a multi-member body.
Question No. 3: When is a subagency of a public agency subject to the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: A subagency of a public agency is subject to the Open Meeting Law if the subagency itself "is created by or pursuant to statute or executive order of the governor, ordinance or other legislative act."12 In Cathcart v. Anderson, the Washington Supreme Court interpreted a Washington statute similar to section 74- 202(4)(d). The court held that, under the language "created by or pursuant to," it is not necessary that a statute, ordinance or other legislative act expressly create a subagency so long as there is an enabling provision which allows that subagency to come into existence at some future time.
Question No. 4: Are advisory committees, boards and commissions subject to the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law defines "public agency" to include "any subagency of a public agency which is created by or pursuant to statute or executive order of the governor, ordinance, or other legislative act,"13 and "governing body" to include any body "with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public agency regarding any matter."14 Thus, advisory committees, boards and commissions are subject to the Open Meeting Law if the body is created by or pursuant to statute, ordinance, or other legislative act and if the body has authority to make recommendations to a public agency.
In contrast, an administrative committee, board or commission is not subject to the Open Meeting Law if it is not entrusted with the formation of public policy, but merely carries out the public policy established by a governing body, and if its activities do not constitute the making of "decisions for or recommendations to" a public agency.15 Likewise, the Open Meeting Law does not apply to voluntary, internal staff meetings if the group is not created by or pursuant to statute, ordinance or other legislative act, even though the discussions may lead to recommendations to the governing body.16 Generally, however, if you are ever unsure of whether a meeting should be open, it is this Office's recommendation to err on the side of opening the meeting.
Question No. 5: Does the Open Meeting Law apply to the governor?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law has no application to the governor when he is acting in his official executive capacity, since the Open Meeting Law does not apply to a public agency headed by a single individual.
CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS (501C(3)) AND HOMEOWNER'S ASSOCIATIONS
Question No. 6: Do charitable organizations have to comply with the Idaho Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law applies only to governmental entities. Typically, charitable organizations are private. Generally, nonprofit organizations are governed by their chartering documents and bylaws. Additionally, title 30, chapter 3 of the Idaho Code, provides the legal foundation for Idaho nonprofits. Consult the chartering documents, bylaws and Idaho Code, title 30, chapter 3, to determine the requirements of corporate records and meetings.
Question No. 7: Do homeowner's associations have to comply with the Idaho Open Meeting Law?
Answer: No. The Open Meeting Law applies only to governmental entities. Homeowner's associations are private entities. Homeowner's associations are generally governed by agreements between the members and the association and their bylaws. Members should consult their association documents and bylaws to determine the association rules for meetings.
PUBLIC ACTIONS OR ACTIVITIES COVERED BY THE OPEN MEETING LAW
Question No. 8: What constitutes a meeting under the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law defines "meeting" to mean "the convening of a governing body of a public agency to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision on any matter."17 "Decision" is then defined to include "any determination, action, vote or final disposition upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, ordinance or measure on which a vote of a governing body is required, at any meeting at which a quorum is present. . . ."18
The term "deliberation" is also a defined term and means "the receipt or exchange of information or opinion relating to a decision, but shall not include informal or impromptu discussions of a general nature that do not specifically relate to a matter then pending before the public agency for decision."19 Note that this does not require any discussion or preliminary decision making. Even the receipt of information relating to a "decision"–i.e., a measure on which the governing body will have to vote–amounts to deliberation, and therefore triggers the definition and requirements of a "meeting" under the Open Meeting Law.
Question No. 9: Does the term "meeting" include such things as informal gatherings, briefing sessions, informal discussions, attendance at social functions, etc.?
Answer: As noted above, a "meeting" is the convening of a governing body to make a decision or deliberate toward a decision. Additionally, a quorum must be present.20
The California Court of Appeals discussed the dual facets of deliberation and action in Sacramento Newspaper Guild v. Sacramento County Board of Supervisors:
It [California's open meeting law] declares the law's intent that deliberation as well as action occur openly and publicly. Recognition of deliberation and action as dual components of the collective decision-making process brings awareness that the meeting concept cannot be split off and confined to one component only, but rather comprehends both and either. To "deliberate" is to examine, weigh and reflect upon the reasons for or against the choice . . . . Deliberation thus connotes not only collective discussion, but the collective acquisition and exchange of facts preliminary to the ultimate decision.21
The California court then reasoned and ruled:
An informal conference or caucus permits crystallization of secret decisions to a point just short of ceremonial acceptance. There is rarely any purpose to a non-public pre-meeting conference except to conduct some part of the decisional process behind closed doors. Only by embracing the collective inquiry in discussion stages, as well as the ultimate step of official action, can an open meeting regulation frustrate these evasive devices. As operative criteria, formality and informality are alien to the law's design, exposing it to the very evasions it was designed to prevent. Construed in light of the Brown Act's objectives, the term "meeting" extends to informal sessions or conferences of board members designed for the discussion of public business.22
A similar result was reached by the Florida Supreme Court in the case of City of Miami v. Berns wherein the Florida court ruled that public officials violate Florida's open meeting law when they meet privately or secretly and transact or agree to transact public business at a future time in a certain manner.23 The Florida court went on to state that, regardless of whether a meeting or gathering is formal or informal, "[i]t is the law's intent that any meeting, relating to any matter on which foreseeable action will be taken, occur openly and publicly."24
The same considerations must be applied with respect to the Idaho Open Meeting Law. Therefore, it is the opinion of the Attorney General that the provisions of the Open Meeting Law must be complied with whenever a quorum of the members of the governing body of a public agency meets to decide or deliberate on matters which are within the ambit of official business. Those meetings can be formal, informal, or social. So long as a quorum is present and the intent is to deliberate or make a decision, then the meeting must be open.
The requirement that the Open Meeting Law be complied with whenever a quorum of a governing body meets to deliberate or to make a decision should not be evaded by holding smaller meetings with less than a quorum present or by having a go-between contact each of the governing body members to ascertain his/her sentiment.
Question No. 10: Since any meeting of two county commissioners constitutes a quorum under Idaho law, are county commissioners prohibited from having any contact with each other outside of a duly organized open meeting?
Answer: While it is the opinion of the Attorney General that the Open Meeting Law must be complied with whenever a quorum of the members of a governing body of a public agency meet to decide or deliberate on matters which are within the ambit of official business, this Office does not believe that the Legislature intended for the Open Meeting Law to act as a bar to all communications between individual county commissioners outside of open meetings.
Question No. 11: Are adjudicatory deliberations exempt from the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: Only for those agencies expressly exempted. The Open Meeting Law excludes the deliberations of certain agencies (the Board of Tax Appeals, the Public Utilities Commission and the Industrial Commission), in fully submitted adjudicatory proceedings, from the requirement of open public meeting.25 In creating this exemption for adjudicatory deliberations by only these three agencies, it appears the Legislature intended that non-adjudicatory deliberations at these agencies, and all deliberations at all other agencies–i.e., except for the above-described informal or impromptu discussions of a general nature–must be conducted in a public meeting. Of course, the subject matter under adjudication may be separately identified under the Open Meeting Law as justifying a closed executive session.
Question No. 12: Can I still address questions and comments to a commissioner or board member individually related to a pending matter?
Answer: In other words, as representatives, can I still contact members of a governing body with unsolicited "information or opinion relating to a decision" that is pending before the public agency?26 The Idaho Supreme Court has addressed this specific question.
In Idaho Historic Preservation Council v. City Council of Boise, a divided Court overturned a Boise City Council decision that allowed a corporation to demolish a building in Boise.27 In reviewing an appeal from the City's Preservation Commission, members of the City Council stated at the public [open] meeting that they had received numerous telephone calls concerning the issue. Although the Court framed the issue in terms of due process, it may also raise open meeting questions.
In overturning the City's decision, the Court stated:
[W]hen a governing body sits in a quasi-judicial capacity, it must confine its decision to the record produced at the public hearing, and that failing to do so violates procedural due process of law. This Court has also observed that when a governing body deviates from the public record, it essentially conducts a second fact-gathering session without proper notice, a clear violation of due process. Since the substance of the telephone calls received by the members of the City Council was not recorded or disclosed at the public hearing, the Commission had no opportunity to rebut any evidence or arguments the City Council may have received from the callers.
Id. at 654, 8 P.3d at 649 (internal citations omitted). The Court concluded:
This decision does not hold the City Council to a standard of judicial disinterestedness. As explained above, members of the City Council are free to take phone calls from concerned citizens and listen to their opinions and arguments prior to a quasi- judicial proceeding. In order to satisfy due process, however, the identity of the callers must be disclosed, as well as a general description of what each caller said.28
Therefore, in the event that unsolicited information is received and considered by a governing board member, the appropriate action is to disclose the source of the information and the substance of the information so that it may be included within the public record. In sum, any information that you wish to use to form the basis of your decision must be made a part of the public record.
PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS OF THE OPEN MEETING LAW
Question No. 13: What are the notice requirements of the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law requires two types of notice: (1) meeting notice and (2) agenda notice. The notice requirements are satisfied by posting meeting notices and agendas in a prominent place at the principal office of the public agency, or, if no such office exists, at the building where the meeting is to be held. The notice for meetings and agendas shall also be posted electronically if the entity maintains an online presence through a website or a social media platform. The Open Meeting Law does not require publication of the notice in a newspaper or advertisement. However, other statutes governing particular entities may require publication of notice.
The Open Meeting Law also requires that notice be posted at specific minimum times prior to the meeting. These times vary, depending on the type of meeting being held. The notice of an executive session must state the authorizing provision of law.
Question No. 14: What are the notice and agenda requirements for a regular meeting?
Answer: For "regular meetings," the Open Meeting Law requires no less than a five (5) calendar day meeting notice and a forty-eight (48) hour agenda notice, unless otherwise provided by statute.29 Any public agency that holds meetings at regular intervals at least once per calendar month, which are scheduled in advance over the course of the year, may satisfy this notice requirement by posting meeting notices at least once each year of its regular meeting schedule. Agenda notice must still be posted at least 48 hours before the meeting.
Question No. 15: What are the notice and agenda requirements for a special meeting or executive session only meeting?
Answer: For "special meetings," or when only an "executive session" will be held, meeting and agenda notice must be posted at least twenty-four (24) hours before the meeting, unless an emergency exists. An emergency is a situation which involves injury or damage to persons or property, or immediate financial loss, or the likelihood of such injury, damage or loss, when the notice requirements of the section would make such notice impractical, or increase the likelihood or severity of such injury, damage or loss, and the reason for the emergency is stated at the outset of the meeting. This notice and an accompanying agenda must be given by the secretary or other designee of each public agency to any representative of the news media who has requested notification of such meetings and the secretary must make a good faith effort to provide such advance notification to them of the time and place of each meeting.30
Question No. 16: What must an agenda contain?
Answer: What constitutes an "agenda" to satisfy the posting requirement is not set forth in the Open Meeting Law. However, an "agenda" is defined in Black's Law Dictionary (9th ed.) as a "list of things to be done, as items to be considered at a meeting, [usually] arranged in order of consideration." The agenda notice requirement is not satisfied by merely posting a weekly schedule of the governing board which sets forth the time, place of the meetings, and who is participating. Rather, the notice must specifically set forth the purpose of the meeting and "items of business." Agenda items should be listed with specificity and not buried in catchall categories such as "director's report." An agenda item that requires a vote shall be identified on the agenda as an "action item" to provide notice that action may be taken on that item. Identifying an item as an action item on the agenda does not require a vote to be taken on that item.
Question No. 17: May an agenda be amended after posting?
Answer: Yes. The procedure depends on when the agenda is amended.
More than 48 hours before the start of a meeting (or more than 24 hours before a special meeting), the agenda may be amended simply by posting a new agenda.
Less than 48 hours before the meeting (or less than 24 hours before a special meeting), but before the meeting has started, the agenda may be amended by: (1) posting the new agenda, and (2) making and passing a motion at the meeting to amend the original agenda and stating the good faith reason the new items were not included in the original agenda notice.
After commencement of the meeting, the agenda may be amended to accommodate unforeseen issues, provided that: (1) there is a motion made that states the good faith reason the new item was not on the original agenda, and (2) the motion to amend is adopted by the governing body. Final action may not be taken on an agenda item added after the start of the meeting unless an emergency is declared necessitating action at that meeting. The declaration and justification shall be reflected in the minutes.
To sum up, amending an agenda during a meeting or less than 48 hours before the start of a meeting (24 hours for a special meeting) requires: (1) a motion, (2) a good faith reason why the item was not included in the original agenda, (3) a vote adopting the amended agenda, and (4) a record of the motion and vote in the minutes of the meeting.
Question No. 18: May qualifications or restrictions be placed on the public's attendance at an open meeting?
Answer: A public agency may adopt reasonable rules and regulations to ensure the orderly conduct of a public meeting and to ensure orderly behavior on the part of those persons attending the meeting. In Nevens v. City of Chino, a California appellate court nullified a city council measure, which prohibited the use of any tape recorders at city council proceedings.31 While acknowledging that the city council had an absolute right to adopt and enforce rules and regulations necessary to protect its public meetings, the court held that the rule prohibiting tape recorders was too arbitrary, capricious, restrictive and unreasonable. A similar holding might be reached if a governing body prohibits the use of cameras if their presence is not in fact disruptive of the conduct of the meeting.
Another limitation is that the body cannot make it practically impossible for the public to be present at a meeting. For example, in Noble v. Kootenai County, a board of commissioners conducted a site visit to a proposed subdivision. When arriving at the site, the board intentionally avoided a group that was gathered near the entrance to the site location and conducted its site visit outside the group's hearing. The court held that this was a violation, stating that "Idaho's open meeting laws are designed to allow the public to be present during agency hearings. At the very least this means that the public must be permitted to get close enough to the hearing body to hear what is being said."32
In any event, the governing standard is the reasonableness of the rules and regulations. Use of a timed agenda, "heavy gavel" and/or compliance with Robert's Rules of Order or some other procedural guideline may serve to facilitate the orderly conduct of a public meeting.
Question No. 19: Does the Open Meeting Law require the governing body of a public agency to accept public comments and testimony during meetings?
Answer: No. While other statutes, such as the Local Planning Act, may require the solicitation of public comments, the Open Meeting Law does not expressly require the opportunity for public comment.33
Question No. 20: May the members of a governing body vote by secret ballot at an open meeting?
Answer: No decision at any meeting of a governing body of a public agency may be made by secret ballot.34
Question No. 21: If a voice vote is used, must the minutes of the meeting reflect the vote of each member of a governing body by name?
Answer: If a voice vote is taken, the minutes of the meeting must reflect the results of all votes, but the minutes need not indicate how each member voted, unless a member of the governing body requests such an indication.35
Question No. 22: May a vote be conducted by written ballots?
Answer: A vote may be conducted by written ballot, but written ballots would not comply with the Open Meeting Law unless the ballots are made available to the public on request and unless the members casting the ballots are identifiable by signature or other discernible means.36 The reason identification of the vote of individual members is treated differently between voice votes and votes by written ballot is that, with respect to voice votes, members of the public in attendance can readily ascertain the vote of individual members of the governing body. In contrast, a vote by written ballot is tantamount to a secret vote, unless such ballot is signed or identifies the name of the voting member.
Question No. 23: What types of records must be maintained under the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law requires that the governing body of a public agency must provide for the taking of written minutes of all of its meetings, but it is not necessary to make a full transcript or recording of the meeting, except as otherwise provided by law.37 These minutes are public records and must be made available to the general public within a reasonable time after the meeting. The minutes must include, at a minimum, the following information:
(a) All members of the governing body present;
(b) All motions, resolutions, orders, or ordinances proposed and their disposition;
(c) The results of all votes and, upon the request of a member of the governing body, the vote of each member by name.
Other statutes may provide more specific requirements for particular entities.
In addition, section 74-205(2) provides that minutes of executive sessions must be kept, but they need contain only sufficient detail to identify the purpose and topic of the executive session and do not need to include the disclosure of material or matters that compromise the purpose of the executive session. The minutes pertaining to the executive session, however, must include a reference to the specific statutory subsection authorizing the session.
Question No. 24: Are there any prohibitions on where a public meeting may be held?
Answer: Yes. Section 74-203(3) specifically provides: "A governing body shall not hold a meeting at any place where discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, age or national origin is practiced." Thus, for example, a public meeting may not be held at a private club if the private club excludes women from membership, even if women are allowed entrance for the purpose of attending the meeting.
Question No. 25: Does the Open Meeting Law permit holding a meeting by telephone conference call?
Answer: Yes. The Open Meeting Law specifically authorizes the holding of a meeting by telephone conference call. However, at least one member of the governing body or the director or chief administrative officer must be physically present at the meeting location designated in the meeting notice.38 Additionally, the communications among the members of the governing body must be audible to all persons attending the meeting. Care should also be taken to ensure that votes are not made in such a way to permit an illegal secret ballot or vote.
Question No. 26: Are discussions conducted via telephones, computers, cell phones (including texting) or other electronic means exempted from the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: As discussed in this manual, the Open Meeting Law applies to the deliberations and discussions between two or more members of a board or commission on some matter which foreseeably will come before that board or commission for action. The use of a telephone to conduct such discussions does not remove the conversation from the requirements of the Open Meeting Law.
Similarly, members of a public board may not use computers or texting to conduct private conversations among themselves about board business. A one-way e-mail or text communication from one city council member to another, when it does not result in the exchange of council members' comments or responses on subjects requiring council action, does not constitute a meeting subject to the Open Meeting Law; however, such e-mail or text communications are public records and must be maintained by the records custodian for public inspection and copying.
SPECIFIC STATUTORY EXEMPTIONS: EXECUTIVE SESSIONS
Question No. 27: What types of meetings may be closed under the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: A closed meeting–that is, an "executive session"–may be held for the reasons listed in § 74-206(1):
(a) To consider hiring a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent, wherein the respective qualities of individuals are to be evaluated in order to fill a particular vacancy or need. This paragraph does not apply to filling a vacancy in an elective office or deliberations about staffing needs in general;
(b) To consider the evaluation, dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent, or public school student;
(c) To acquire an interest in real property not owned by a public agency;
(d) To consider records that are exempt from disclosure as provided in chapter 1, title 74, Idaho Code;
(e) To consider preliminary negotiations involving matters of trade or commerce in which the governing body is in competition with governing bodies in other states or nations;
(f) To communicate with legal counsel for the public agency to discuss the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending litigation, or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated. The mere presence of legal counsel at an executive session does not satisfy this requirement;
(g) By the commission of pardons and parole, as provided by law;
(h) By the custody review board of the Idaho department of juvenile corrections, as provided by law; or
(i) To engage in communications with a representative of the public agency's risk manager or insurance provider to discuss the adjustment of a pending claim or prevention of a claim imminently likely to be filed. The mere presence of a representative of the public agency's risk manager or insurance provider at an executive session does not satisfy this requirement.
(j) To consider labor contract matters authorized under section 74-206A(1)(a) and (b), Idaho Code.
This provision enumerates specific and not general statutory exemptions to the requirement of conducting an open meeting. It is the Attorney General's opinion that a public agency cannot conduct an executive session to consider general personnel matters, but can only meet in executive session to consider those specifically enumerated personnel matters found at section 74-206(1)(a) and (b); that is, "to consider hiring a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent" or "to consider the evaluation, dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member, individual agent or public school student." Additionally, Idaho Code section 74-206(2) specifically directs that the exceptions be construed narrowly. No entity should try to "shoehorn" an issue into an executive session exception.
An executive session may be held to consider acquiring an 17 interest in real property that is not owned by a public agency. However, an executive session cannot be held for the purpose of acquiring an interest in real property owned by a public agency.39
It should be noted that the Open Meeting Law establishes circumstances where executive sessions are permissible. In other words, the act authorizes, but does not require, closed meetings. In addition, even though certain enumerated matters may be "considered" in an executive session, it must be emphasized that: "[N]o executive session may be held for the purpose of taking any final action or making any final decision."40
It is important to remember that section 74-206(1) sets forth specific procedural steps to be followed to have a valid executive session. Failure to do so will invalidate any action taken as a result of the executive session. Additionally, it may subject the board members to liability for those actions. Procedurally, the presiding officer must identify the specific authorization under the Open Meeting Law for the holding of an executive session and at least a two-thirds (2⁄3) vote in favor of the executive session must be recorded in the minutes of the meeting by individual vote.
Question No. 28: What procedure must be followed before an executive session, closed to the public, may be held?
Answer: It must be noted that executive sessions take place only at meetings. Before any executive session may be held, there must be a valid open meeting and a vote to hold an executive session. Every such "meeting" must satisfy the Open Meeting Law's notice and agenda requirements.41 If the governing body of a public agency then wishes to consider matters which may legally be considered in a closed meeting, an executive session may be held if two-thirds (2⁄3) of the members vote to hold an executive session. Prior to such vote, the presiding officer must identify the authorization under the Open Meeting Law for the holding of an executive session. Then, when the vote is taken, the individual vote of each member of the governing body must be recorded in the minutes.42
Question No. 29: May legal counsel meet privately with the governing body of a public agency to discuss threatened or pending litigation?
Answer: Yes. Section 74-206(f) expressly provides that an executive session may be held "[t]o communicate with legal counsel for the public agency to discuss the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending litigation, or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated."
Question No. 30: Must the governing body's attorney be present during an executive session?
Answer: Generally, the governing body's attorney need not be present when the governing body meets in executive session. An exception is an executive session authorized under Idaho Code section 74-206(1)(f): "To communicate with legal counsel for the public agency to discuss the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending litigation, or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated. The mere presence of legal counsel at an executive session does not satisfy this requirement." (Of course, the attorney's "presence" may be facilitated via a telecommunications device.) An executive session under this subsection is solely for the purpose of communicating with legal counsel on pending or probable litigation.
Question No. 31: If a more specific statute requires open meetings and has no provision for executive sessions, is the executive session provision of the Open Meeting Law still applicable?
Answer: Yes. The executive session provision takes precedence over other statutes that may apply to a particular entity. Thus, even if a statute requires all meetings of a governing body to be open, executive sessions may still be held.43
PENALTIES FOR NONCOMPLIANCE
Question No. 32: What is the validity of action taken in violation of the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: If an action, or any deliberation or decision making that leads to an action, occurs at any meeting that fails to comply with the provisions of the Open Meeting Law, such an action may be declared null and void by a court.44
Any member of the governing body taking such an action, who participates in any such deliberation, decision making, or meeting, is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250).45 The maximum civil penalty for a subsequent violation is two thousand five hundred dollars ($2,500).46
Any governing body member who knowingly violates a provision of the Open Meeting Law is subject to a civil penalty of not more than one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500).47
It is the opinion of the Attorney General that the Idaho Legislature intended that such fines be paid by the individual member of the governing body, not the governing body itself.
Question No. 33: Who enforces the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: The Attorney General enforces the Open Meeting Law in relation to the public agencies of state government. County prosecuting attorneys enforce the Open Meeting Law in relation to the local public agencies within their respective jurisdictions.48
Any person affected by a violation of the Open Meeting Law is entitled to bring a lawsuit in the magistrates' division of the county in which the public agency normally meets for the purpose of requiring compliance with the provisions of the Open Meeting Law. The lawsuit would ask the court to declare any improper actions void and to enjoin the governing body from violating the Open Meeting Law in the future. Such a lawsuit must be commenced within thirty (30) days of the time of the decision or action that results, in whole or in part, from a meeting that failed to comply with the provisions of the Open Meeting Law. Any other lawsuit must be commenced within one hundred eighty (180) days of the time of the violation.49
Question No. 34: If there is a violation of the Open Meeting Law at an early stage in the process, will all subsequent actions be null and void?
Answer: Yes. Section 74-208(1) clearly indicates that an action or any deliberation or decision making that leads to an action, which occurs at any meeting not in compliance with the provisions of the Open Meeting Law, will be null and void. The 1992 Legislature added the "deliberation or decision making that leads to an action" language to the provisions of section 74-208(1). This language clarifies the consequences of a violation under the previous requirement.
The Idaho Supreme Court has held that the procedure for voiding actions taken in violation of the Open Meeting Law must be read literally. Thus, any action may not be declared void if it is not challenged within the thirty-day time limit established by section 74- 208(6).50
Question No. 35: If a violation of the Open Meeting Law occurs, what can a governing body do to correct the error?
Answer: The governing body should follow the steps outlined in Idaho Code § 74-208(7) to "cure" the violation. A violation is cured by repealing any action taken at an illegal meeting or disregarding deliberations made in violation of the Open Meeting Law. Should it choose to, a governing body may, in a properly noticed meeting, repeat the deliberation or decision that occurred at the illegal meeting.
Question No. 36: Are members of the governing body of a public agency criminally liable for violations of the Open Meeting Law in which they knowingly participate?
Answer: The Open Meeting Law specifically provides civil monetary penalties for violations. The Open Meeting Law does not expressly provide for criminal liability for knowing violations. Nonetheless, it is possible that a member of a governing body may be guilty of a misdemeanor for violations of the Open Meeting Law in which he or she knowingly participates.
Idaho Code Section 18-315 provides:
Every willful omission to perform any duty enjoined by law upon any public officer, or person holding any public trust or employment, where no special provision shall have been made for the punishment of such delinquency, is punishable as a misdemeanor.
Idaho Code Section 18-317 states:
When an act or omission is declared by a statute to be a public offense and no penalty for the offense is prescribed in any statute, the act or omission is punishable as a misdemeanor.
In Alder v. City Council of City of Culver City, the court considered the California Open Meeting Law (the Brown Act), which included no penalty provisions or provisions for enforcement when violations occur.51 Relying on two California statutes identical to Idaho Code sections 18-315 and 18-317, the California court ruled that violations of the Open Meeting Law were punishable as misdemeanors even though the Open Meeting Law did not expressly make violations punishable as misdemeanors.
Question No. 37: Do school boards have to comply with the Open Meeting Law?
Answer: Yes. Each school district is governed by a board of trustees or "board"52 and all school districts in Idaho, including specially chartered school districts, are under the supervision and control of the State Board of Education.53 State boards and school districts are defined in the Open Meeting Law as a "public agency,"54 and as such, are subject to the Open Meeting Laws.55
- 3 Idaho Code § 74-203(1) (emphasis added).
- 4 Idaho Code § 74-202(5).
- 5 Idaho Code § 74-202(4).
- 6 Attorney General Opinion No. 77-30, 1977 Idaho Att'y Gen. Ann. Rpt. 180.
- 7 Idaho Code § 74-202(4)(a).
- 8 Idaho Code § 74-203.
- 9 145 Idaho 164, 177 P.3d 378 (2008).
- 10 Id. at 168, 177 P.3d at 382.
- 11 Idaho Code § 67-5201 to 67-5292.
- 12 Idaho Code § 74-202(4)(d); Cathcart v. Anderson, 85 Wash. 2d 102, 530 P.2d 313 (1975); Attorney General Opinion No. 7-75, 1975 Idaho Att'y Gen. Ann. Rpt. 22.
- 13 Idaho Code § 74-202(4)(d).
- 14 Idaho Code § 74-202(5) (emphasis added).
- 15 Idaho Water Resources Board v. Kramer, 97 Idaho 535, 572, 548 P.2d 45, 72 (1976).
- 16 See Safe Air For Everyone v. Idaho State Dep't of Agriculture, 145 Idaho 164, 177 P.3d 378 (2008); People v. Carlson, 328 N.E.2d 675 (Ill. App. Ct. 1975); Bennett v. Warden, 333 So.2d 97 (Fla. 1976).
- 17 Idaho Code § 74-202(6) (emphasis added).
- 18 Idaho Code § 74-202(1) (emphasis added).
- 19 Idaho Code § 74-202(2).
- 20 Idaho Water Resources Board v. Kramer, 97 Idaho 535, 571, 548 P.2d 45, 71 (1976).
- 21 Sacramento Newspaper Guild v. Sacramento County Bd. of Supervisors, 69 Cal. Rptr. 480, 485 (Cal. Ct. App. 1968).
- 22 Id. at 487.
- 23 City of Miami v. Berns, 245 So.2d 38 (Fla. 1971).
- 24 Id. at 41; see also Canney v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Alachua Cnty, 278 So.2d 260 (Fla. 1973); Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Broward Cnty v. Doran, 224 So.2d 693 (Fla. 1969).
- 25 Idaho Code § 74-203(2).
- 26 Idaho Code § 74-202(2).
- 27 Idaho Historic Pres. Council v. City Council of Boise, 134 Idaho 651, 8 P.3d 646 (2000).
- 28 Id. at 656, 8 P.3d at 651.
- 29 Idaho Code § 74-204.
- 30 Idaho Code § 74-204(2) and (3).
- 31 Nevens v. City of Chino, 44 Cal. Rptr. 50 (Cal. Ct. App. 1965).
- 32 Noble v. Kootenai County, 148 Idaho 937, 943, 231 P.3d 1034, 1040 (2010) (internal citations omitted).
- 33 See Coalition for Responsible Government v. Bonner County, First Judicial District, Bonner County Case No. CV-97-00107 (May 15, 1997) (on file with the Office of the Attorney General).
- 34 Idaho Code § 74-203(1).
- 35 Idaho Code § 74-205(1)(c).
- 36 Attorney General Opinion No. 77-13, 1977 Idaho Att'y Gen. Ann. Rpt. 115. 37 Idaho Code § 74-205(1).
- 38 Idaho Code § 74-203(5).
- 39 Attorney General Opinion No. 81-15, 1981 Idaho Att'y Gen. Ann. Rpt. 161.
- 40 Idaho Code § 74-206(3); Attorney General Opinion No. 77-44, 1977 Idaho Att'y Gen. Ann. Rpt. 226; Attorney General Opinion No. 81-15, 1981 Idaho Att'y Gen. Ann. Rpt. 161.
- 41 Idaho Code § 74-204.
- 42 Idaho Code § 74-206(1).
- 43 Nelson v. Boundary County, 109 Idaho 205, 706 P.2d 94 (Ct. App. 1985).
- 44 Idaho Code § 74-208(1).
- 45 Idaho Code § 74-208(2).
- 46 Idaho Code § 74-208(4).
- 47 Idaho Code § 74-208(3).
- 48 Idaho Code § 74-208(5).
- 49 Idaho Code § 74-208(6).
- 50 Petersen v. Franklin County, 130 Idaho 176, 938 P.2d 1214 (1997).
- 51 Alder v. City Council of City of Culver City, 7 Cal. Rptr. 805 (Cal. Ct. App. 1960).
- 52 Idaho Code § 33-501.
- 53 Idaho Code § 33-101.
- 54 Idaho Code § 74-202(4)(a) and 74-202(4)(c).
- 55 Idaho Code § 74-203(1).