This page focuses on the laws that impact library board meetings. Many general questions can be answered by consulting the in-depth resource, Open Government Resource Manual, which cites the laws and subsequent legal interpretations. Specific questions should be addressed to your library's legal counsel.
From the Open Government Resource Manual, Chapter 3:
"The Open Public Meetings Act ("OPMA"), chapter RCW 42.30, was passed by the legislature in 1971 as part of a nationwide effort to make government affairs more accessible and, in theory, more responsive. It was modeled on a California law known as the "Brown Act" and a similar Florida statute. The OPMA and the Public Records Act (PRA), chapter 42.56 RCW, create important and powerful tools enabling the people to inform themselves about their government, both state and local.
The Open Public Meetings Act, along with the Public Disclosure Act (now referred to as the Public Records Act, RCW 42.56), addressed requirements for state and local governmental units to conduct open public meetings and to provide public access to their records. The Public Disclosure Commission is responsible for providing information about the RCWs as well as ensuring compliance.
The following opening statement from RCW 42.30.010 demonstrates the clear intent of the law and the manner in which courts have interpreted the law:
The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
As per RCW 42.30.020.
- "… the transaction of the official business of a public agency by a governing body including but not limited to receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions."
- Final action
- "… a collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a governing body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance."
- Governing body
- "… the multimember board, commission, committee, council, or other policy or rule-making body of a public agency, or any committee thereof when the committee acts on behalf of the governing body, conducts hearings, or takes testimony or public comment." AG Opinion AGO 1986 No. 16 expands upon this definition.
- "… meetings at which action is taken."
- Public agency
- When is a board or commission allowed to adopt ordinances, resolutions, rules, regulations, orders, or directives?
- A governing body of a public agency, such as a board or commission, may take action only if their meeting is open to the public and at a meeting, the date of which is fixed by law or rule, or at a meeting of which notice has been given according to the provisions of RCW 42.30. Failing to comply renders such actions null and void. RCW 42.30.060(1)
- Do meetings of standing committees of a library board or commission need to be open?
- Yes. Standing committees that routinely deal with particular issues, such as a budget committee that meets to determine fiscal priorities and then reports back to the library board, must meet the public meetings criteria. Committees are regarded as governing bodies, as defined by RCW 42.30.020.
- Are there any exceptions?
- Collective bargaining sessions with employee organizations, including the following, are not required to be held in public meetings:
- Contract negotiations, grievance meetings, and discussions relating to the interpretation or application of a labor agreement;
- The portion of a meeting during which the board is planning or adopting the strategy or position to be taken by the board during the course of any collective bargaining, professional negotiations;
- Grievance or mediation proceedings, or reviewing the proposals made in the negotiations or proceedings while in progress.
- Is the board or commission required to file a schedule of its regular meetings?
- Yes, each year the board or commission must file a schedule of regular meetings, including time and place, with the Code Reviser. Any changes to the schedule must be published in the state register at least 20 days before the rescheduled date. RCW 42.30.075. See also RCW 34.08.020.
- What is the procedure to establish a schedule for regular board meetings?
- The board must set a time for regular meetings by resolution, in its bylaws, or other rule (e.g., the third Friday of the month). If the regular meeting falls on a holiday, the meeting shall be held on the next business day. RCW 42.30.070
- Is the board restricted to meeting within a particular geographic area?
- No. The board does not need to meet within the geographic boundaries of the jurisdiction of the library unless local laws establish such a requirement. RCW 42.30.070
- Is a vote by secret ballot permitted at board meetings?
- No. Voting by secret ballot by a governing body of a public agency, such as a board of commission, at any meeting required to be open to the public is prohibited. RCW 42.30.060(2)
- Is a quorum required for a meeting?
- Yes. For a meeting to take place, a quorum of the board or commission or committee acting on its behalf is required. If the meeting is adjourned due to the failure to have a quorum, a written notice must be posted per RCW 42.30.090.
- When board members are invited to attend a public meeting not called by the board, is it legal for a quorum of such members to be present without violating the Open Public Meetings Act?
- AG Opinion AGO 2006 No. 6 responds to this question by stating:
The presence of a quorum of the members of a city or county council at a meeting not called by the council does not, in itself, make the meeting a "public meeting" for purposes of the Open Public Meetings Act (RCW 42.30); the Open Public Meetings Act would apply if the council members took any "action" (as defined in RCW 42.30) at the meeting, such as voting, deliberating together, or using the meeting as a source of public testimony for council action.
- Who may attend public meetings? Can the board bar individuals from attending its meetings?
- All persons are permitted to attend any meeting of the governing body of a public agency at which its official business is conducted. The Act does not address whether a board is required to hold its meeting at a location that would permit every person to attend. However, deliberately scheduling a meeting at a location that was too small to permit full attendance would not meet the spirit of the law. RCW 42.30.030
- What is the procedure for dealing with disorderly conduct at meetings?
- If a meeting is interrupted by a group or groups of persons so severely that the meeting cannot be conducted in an orderly fashion, or order cannot be restored by removing the individuals who are interrupting the meeting, the board may order the meeting room cleared and continue in session, or may adjourn the meeting and reconvene at another location selected by a majority vote of the members. In such a session, final disposition may be taken only on matters appearing on the agenda. Representatives of the press or other news media, except those participating in the disturbance, shall be allowed to attend session. The board may establish a procedure for readmitting an individual or individuals not responsible for disturbing the orderly conduct of the meeting. RCW 42.30.050
- May the board hold its meeting using alternative means, such as via conference calls or e-mail?
- Yes. Under the broad definition of "meeting," any of the following examples could constitute a meeting:
- Conference calls;
- A series of telephone calls;
- Discussions via e-mail.
Such alternative venues would require that:
- A quorum of the members of the board or commission participate;
- Members collectively intend to transact official business;
- Members communicate about issues that may or will come before the body for a vote.
- Is the board allowed to require members of the public to register to attend its meetings?
- No. Members of the public should not be required to register their names or other information, to complete a questionnaire, or to fulfill any other condition to attend public meetings. For instance, a board could not limit attendance to people who live in the library district or city. RCW 42.30.040.
- Who may call for a special meeting?
- The presiding officer of the governing body or a majority of the members of the governing body may call for a special meeting at any time. RCW 42.30.080
- What is the procedure for providing notice of special meetings?
- A special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer or by a majority of the members of the board by hand delivering or by mailing, faxing, or e-mailing written notice to each member of the board at least 24 hours prior to the meeting time.
The media may file a written request to be notified of a particular special meeting or all special meetings. These on-file requests should be periodically reviewed to assure that appropriate notice is given.
A written notice may be dispensed with if a member files a written waiver of notice with the clerk or secretary of the board at or prior to the time the meeting convenes, or who provides written notice to the clerk or secretary of the board via telegram, fax, or e-mail waiving notice. RCW 42.30.080
- How much notice must be given of special meetings of the board?
- Notice must be given at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting, and should specify the time and place of the meeting and the business to be transacted. RCW 42.30.080
- How much notice must be given of special meetings held to deal with an emergency involving injury or damage to persons or property?
- In the event that a special meeting is called to deal with an emergency involving injury or damage to persons or property or the likelihood of such injury or damage, and when time requirements of such notice would be impractical and increase the likelihood of injury or damage, notices may be dispensed with. Emergency meetings may be held at a site other than the regularly scheduled meeting place. An emergency is defined as a natural disaster, such as fire, flood, or earthquake, that requires immediate attention and expedited action. An unexpected deadline or event is not considered an emergency, although the board may call a special meeting to discuss the issue. RCW 42.30.070
- Can a governing library board pay bills/operate legally without a quorum?
Less than a quorum of the library board cannot operate as a governing body, and therefore cannot approve vouchers, pay
bills, etc. The library district, therefore, should do its best to ensure that it has sufficient board members to reach
a quorum. However, because annual appropriations are made by the local government for which the library was established
(see RCW 27.12.240) and the county, in the case of a rural county library district, is responsible for the collection
and disbursement of revenue (RCW 27.12.070), perhaps the local government could step in, if needed.
However, pursuant to RCW 27.12.210(5), the library trustees “have exclusive control of the finances of the library.” So,
again, the default is that the library needs to maintain a sufficient number of its board of trustees. Another option
described below is to allow for the payment of bills prior to approval by the governing body pursuant to RCW 42.24.180,
however even then, approval still needs to be obtained by the governing body.
Exceptions to Public Meetings — Executive sessions
- What constitutes an executive session?
- A library board may hold an executive session solely for an announced purpose or it may call an executive session during a regular or special meeting. Executive sessions may not be called to avoid public discussion of "hot" topics. Discussion of personnel matters, in general, in not an authorized purpose for holding an executive session. The only topics that may be addressed in an executive session are precisely defined by RCW 42.30.110(1), and include the following:
- Matters affecting national security;
- Real estate –
- To consider site selection or the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase when public knowledge would likely result in an increased price;
- To consider the minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale or lease when public knowledge would likely result in a decreased price. However, final action selling or leasing public property shall be taken in a meeting open to the public.
- Publicly bid contracts –
- To review negotiations on the performance of publicly bid contracts when public knowledge would likely result in increased costs.
- Personnel –
- To receive and evaluate complaints or charges brought against a trustee or employee. Note: The trustee or employee can request that a public hearing or a meeting open to the public be conducted upon such complaint or charge;
- To evaluate the qualifications of an applicant for public employment or to review the performance of a public employee. However, subject to RCW 42.30.140(4) – collective bargaining sessions with employee organizations, discussion of salaries, wages, and other conditions of employment to be generally applied within the agency; and when a governing body elects to take final action hiring, setting the salary of an individual employee or class of employees, or discharging or disciplining an employee, those actions shall occur in an open public meeting.
- Litigation –
- To discuss with library legal counsel litigation or potential litigation to which the library board, or a member acting in an official capacity is, or is likely to become, a party, when public knowledge regarding the discussion is likely to result in an adverse legal or financial consequence to the library.
- What is the procedure for calling an executive session?
- Before convening in executive session, the presiding officer shall publicly announce the purpose for excluding the public from the meeting place, and the time when the executive session will be concluded. The executive session may be extended to a later time by announcement of the presiding officer. RCW 42.30.110(2)
- If the executive session ends earlier than expected, may the regular meeting begin?
- No. If the session ends earlier than anticipated, the regular meeting may not be resumed until the time originally scheduled for the meeting.
- Who may attend an executive session?
- People other than members of the board may be invited to attend if they have some relationship to the matter being addressed, or if they can provide assistance. For example, the library director may attend to present information to the board.
Minutes and Recordings of Meetings
- What are the requirements for minutes for regular and special meetings of library boards or commissions?
- Accurate minutes of public meetings must be maintained and made available to the public upon request. RCW 42.32.030 does not specify format or content, but the Open Government Ombudsman recommends that minutes contain, at a minimum, the following:
- Attendance of members;
- A final meeting agenda and any amendments during the meeting;
- Index any materials submitted and reviewed during the meeting;
- The final disposition of any matters for which the governing body takes final action;
- How each member voted if requested by a member during the voting.
(Posted by the Open Government Ombudsman at 06/08/2009 02:52:43 PM on Unredacted.)
- Are minutes of an executive session required?
- No minutes are required because executive sessions are not public meetings.
- May the public make an audio or video recording of a board meeting?
- Although the Act does not specifically address whether the public may make an audio or video recording of a meeting, there is general agreement that recording is permitted if it is not disruptive. AG Opinion, AGO 1998 No. 15 provides additional clarification regarding recordings of official proceedings.
Travel and Social Events
- May board members travel together?
- Yes, board members may travel together or gather for purposes other than a regular or special meeting, as long as no action is taken. RCW 42.30.070
- May board members participate in social gatherings?
- Board members may attend social gatherings, provided no official business is discussed at those gatherings. RCW 42.30.070
- Our board would like to hold a social event for our Trustees, Friends’ Board, and Foundation Board. It will be scheduled during after hours and is intended to be a social mixer. Do you have any suggestions to ensure transparency?
- Although no notice is required for such an event, the following approaches are recommended:
- Don’t treat it as a special meeting – send out invitations as if it were a party;
- At the door, have everyone read and then sign a sheet that states that no business will be discussed;
- If any members of the public show up, invite them in.
- A fourth option is to treat the event as a special meeting. If so, all of the requirements for special meetings (RCW 42.30.080) must be followed.
Penalties for Breaking the Law
- What happens if a board member knowingly violates the Open Public Meetings Act?
- Every trustee who attends a board meeting that is in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act, with knowledge that the meeting is in violation, is subject to personal liability for a civil penalty of $100. The penalty shall be assessed by a judge of the Superior Court. RCW 42.30.120(1)
- Who may bring enforcement action?
- Anyone may initiate the action. A person who prevails in the courts for violation of the Act may be awarded all costs, including reasonable attorney fees incurred in connection with the legal action. RCW 42.30.120(2)
- What about frivolous cases?
- A library board that prevails in the courts for a violation may be awarded reasonable expenses and attorney fees upon final judgment and written findings by the trial judge that the action was frivolous and advanced without reasonable cause. RCW 4.84.185
- Establish rules and follow them;
- Provide sign-in cards for name of individual/topic to be addressed;
- Provide clear time limits;
- Rule about how many times someone may speak in one meeting;
- Make it clear that the board does not need to make a decision or revisit a topic that a visitor wishes to have addressed.
- Speak slowly;
- Use general terms and avoid jargon;
- Avoid humor or satire;
- Keep it brief – remember that comments will be condensed, perhaps out of context;
- Use it as an opportunity to tell your library’s story;
- Remember that nothing requires you to answer a reporter’s question.
- Remember that it is never off the record!
- Coordinate your message by:
- Making sure the board is notified when media coverage occurs;
- Having talking points ready for sensitive or important issues;
- Speaking with one voice – the united voice of the board has the most powerful positive impact for the library. Different voices saying different things may result in adverse publicity for the library.
- Attorney General.
- Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington.
- Washington Coalition for Open Government. Open Public Meetings Act