March 18, 2020

Open Public Meetings and Infectious Disease Outbreak

Responses to the coronavirus pandemic have impacted virtually every aspect of public life, and the functioning of local governing bodies is no exception. Although the actions necessary for a particular governing body will depend on its organic act, charter or rules, there is some practical advice to help local governments comply with requirements of the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”).

A governing body might decide to hold a remote meeting, postpone or even cancel a meeting, if quarantines or other measures prevent its members from traveling to the meeting place or if the physical gathering of people at the meeting place would present an unwarranted risk. Below is practical advice based on the OPMA and new guidance provided by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office for the coronavirus outbreak (“AGO Guidance”). As circumstances evolve, local governments also may want to consider other potential sources of authority (e.g., Washington Constitution, statutes, etc.) that grant additional powers and discretion during a public health crisis.

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