The Mornoe County Commission holds Regular, Special and Emergency Meetings. Regular meetings occur on the first Wednesday every month, unless otherwise noted. Special meetings are meetings that occur before or after Regular Meetings, and given a 48 hour notice. Emergency meetings are meetings where an emergency decision or situation is currently happening. These type of meetings do not require a 48 hour notice.
The Monroe County Commission follows the Open Governmental Meetings Laws. Some of the common questions concerning the Open Govermental Meeting Laws are:
What agencies are covered?
The Act covers any administrative or legislative unit of state, county or municipal government including any subunit (e.g. committees) authorized by law to exercise some portion of executive or legislative power. The Act does not apply to courts or private organizations that receive government funding.
What is a governing body?
Two or more members of a public agency who have the authority to make decisions for, or recommendations to, the public agency on policy or administration is considered a governing body.
What is a meeting for purposes of the Open Meetings Act?
A “meeting” covered by the Act is a convening of a quorum of a governing body or subcommittee in order to make a decision or deliberation towards a decision. Meetings may be held by telephone conference or other electronic means, such as video conference. In these instances, governing bodies must ensure that all their members can hear, and be heard by, each other and any media or member of the public present at the meeting.
When a quorum of a governing body discusses issues of interest upon which the governing body expects to take some official action, then this is a meeting. If this discussion takes place outside the confines of a public meeting—whether in person, by telephone, email or other telecommunication means — it is an illegal meeting.
What gatherings are not meetings subject to the Open Meetings Act?
General discussions among members of a governing body or committee on issues of interest to the public in a social, educational, training, informal, ceremonial or similar setting, so long as there is no intent to conduct public business or for the discussion to lead to official action, are not gatherings subject to the Open Meetings Act. Adjudicatory proceedings, on-site inspections, political party caucuses, and discussions on logistical and procedural methods to schedule and regulate a meeting are also not matters covered by the Open Meetings Act.
How much advance notice of a meeting is necessary?
Public notice of the meeting date and agenda must be made available in advance of a meeting to the public and news media.
Every public agency must establish rules for giving advance notice of all regularly scheduled and special meetings. W.Va. Code § 6-9A-3. In addition, the Open Meetings Committee of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, through the issuance of Advisory Opinions, has established rules which establish how much advance notice is required.
Calculating days for purposes of the Open Meetings Act
In calculating days, do not count the day of the meeting, weekend days or legal holidays. Half-day holidays are not legal holidays for the purpose of calculating days. State agencies, however, have additional obligations for posting a meeting notice with the Secretary of State's office.
Time requirements for posting a meeting notice
- State agencies - State agencies must file a notice of any meeting with the Secretary of State at least five business days prior to the date of the meeting.
- Other governing bodies - Notice must be given in a reasonable manner. When a governing body meets in accordance with a fixed schedule, such as the second and fourth Monday of each month, it may comply with the meeting notice requirement in the Act by annually posting notice of the date, time and place of these regular meetings or regular committee meetings for the coming year, and keeping this notice posted throughout the year.
- Regular meetings – For governing bodies which do not have a fixed schedule for meetings, these bodies may comply with the Open Meetings Act by posting a notice three business days in advance of the meeting.
- Special meetings - When a governing body meets on an irregular schedule, or needs to meet before the next regularly scheduled meeting to address matters that do not involve an emergency, these are considered special meetings. Notice must be posted two business days in advance of the meeting. Although state agencies may conduct a special meeting, i.e., a meeting held between regularly scheduled meetings, due to the more restrictive language in the Open Meetings Act the agency must provide the meeting notice to the Secretary of State at least five business days prior to the date of the special meeting. State agencies may not call an emergency meeting for a subject that is not a true emergency. Failure to file a timely notice of meeting with the Secretary of State’s Office does not constitute an emergency.
What must a notice include?
Notice must include the date, time and place of the meeting. For special meetings or emergency meetings, the notice must state the purpose of the meeting.
Time requirements for posting an agenda
- Regular meeting - three business days before the meeting.
- Special meeting - two business days before the meeting.
- Emergency meeting - as soon as practicable prior to the meeting.
Where/how to post an agenda?
A governing body complies with the Act by posting its meeting agenda for each regularly scheduled meeting in a public place at its central office and by having copies of the agenda available there during regular business hours.
In addition, it may distribute agendas to the news media by mail, facsimile or e-mail. The agenda also may be posted on the governing body’s website if it has one. While additional dissemination to the public and the media is encouraged, failure to provide an agenda by such additional means will not invalidate an otherwise proper public meeting.
What about governing bodies which meet weekly?
For governing bodies which meet weekly, the agenda may be issued two business days before the meeting.
May an agenda be amended?
Yes. The agenda may be amended up to two business days before the meeting. If an agenda is amended, it must be reposted in the same manner as the original agenda was posted. The only circumstance under which a governing body may amend an agenda during a meeting is if a true emergency arises.
How specific must an agenda be?
Agendas must give reasonable notice to the public of what issues will be discussed. Specifically, any matter requiring the governing body to take official action must be listed on the agenda. For example, “filling position of office manager” would be sufficient. Use of vague headings such as “old business,” “new business” and "personnel matters" is clearly insufficient. The public should also be given notice of significant additions or changes to the agenda. Each governing body should have rules on how such notice will be given.
What is an emergency?
Governing bodies should exercise caution when calling an emergency meeting. Ordinarily, an “emergency” involves an unexpected situation or sudden occurrence of a serious nature, such as an event that threatens public health and safety. Every unexpected or sudden event does not constitute an emergency. For example, employing an attorney to assist the governing body does not constitute an emergency. Likewise, acting on a questionable bill for legal services does not constitute an emergency.
Is immediate action required?
When in doubt as to what constitutes an emergency, consider what consequences could occur if the governing body does not act immediately. If it can wait days without significant adverse consequences, then a special meeting should be called instead. Or, call the Ethics Commission to discuss the situation with staff. To satisfy the terms of an emergency meeting exemption, not only must a matter involve an emergency, the governing body also must be required to take immediate official action in response to the situation. For example, if a flood were to contaminate a town’s water supply, the council may be required to approve various actions to protect public health and restore the system to safe operation.
Must a notice or an agenda be posted?
For an emergency meeting, the notice must be posted as soon as practicable prior to the meeting. The notice must set forth the reason for, and purpose of, the emergency meeting. Similarly, governing bodies that wish to add emergency matters to their meeting agenda must post an amended agenda which includes the emergency item. The amended agenda shall further explain the facts and circumstances which warrant adding the emergency item to the agenda. In the event of an emergency requiring immediate official action, a state agency may file an emergency meeting notice with the Secretary of State at any time prior to the meeting. The emergency meeting notice shall state the date, time, place and purpose of the meeting and the facts and circumstances of the emergency.
Are written minutes required for an Emergency Meeting?
Yes. The explanation for the emergency must be repeated and set forth in the written minutes of the meeting.
Should minutes be prepared?
The Act requires that written minutes of all open meetings be available to the public within a reasonable time after the meeting.
The minutes must include:
- The date, time and place of the meeting.
- The name of each member of the governing body present and absent.
- All motions, orders, resolutions, ordinances and measures proposed, as well as the name of the person proposing each action and the disposition of the matter.
- The results of all votes, including roll call votes by member name, if such votes are conducted.
When must meeting minutes be made available to the public?
Meeting minutes should usually be made available to the public one business day after the public body’s next regular meeting. If, at that meeting, the public body makes material changes to the draft minutes, then, in the absence of compelling circumstances, the approved minutes should be made available no later than three business days following the meeting.
When may a governing body go into an executive session?
A governing body may go into an executive session for any of the reasons set forth in the Open Meetings Act at W.Va. Code § 6-9A-4. Some common grounds for going into an executive session are to discuss personnel matters or pending litigation; to consider matters involving the purchase, sale or lease of real property, or to plan or consider an official investigation. A governing body must attempt to segregate the non-exempt portions from the exempt portions of its meeting unless segregation would make a coherent discussion impossible.
How do you convene an executive session?
A member of the governing body must make a motion to go into executive session. The motion must state in plain language the grounds for convening an executive session. For example, a member may state that he or she is moving to go into executive session based upon the personnel exception. It is not necessary to cite the specific code provision. A governing body may go into executive session to discuss only matters that appear on the meeting agenda.
Must the agenda state that the governing body will go into executive session?
No. In fact, a governing body may not decide in advance of a meeting that it will go into executive session. The agenda may indicate that it is anticipated that a matter may be discussed in executive session, but the governing body may only go into executive session by a majority vote of the members present. The agenda item must be descriptive enough to put the public on notice of the nature of the matter being discussed regardless of whether it will be discussed in an open session or executive session. For example, an agenda item to discuss pending litigation may read, “Discuss pending lawsuit of Smith v. Jones with legal counsel.” Once again, generic agenda items such as “Discuss pending litigation” are too vague to adequately put the public on notice as to the matter to be discussed.
May a governing body vote on matters in executive session?
No. Votes may not be taken in an executive session. A governing body may only vote after it reconvenes in an open session.
One exception is that a governing body may vote to give its attorney settlement authority in an executive session. The fact that a governing body has authorized its attorney to engage in settlement negotiations and/or has set a settlement range is not required to be disclosed. If a settlement is reached, then the settlement agreement, including the amount, becomes a matter of public record.
Is a governing body required to take minutes for an executive session?
No. The decision of whether or not to take minutes for an executive session lies within the discretion of the governing body. The governing body may want to seek the advice of legal counsel concerning whether minutes should be taken. If a governing body decides to take minutes in an executive session, the Act does not require the disclosure of such minutes to the public.