Common Open Meeting Law Myths
The Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML), Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13D has many requirements public bodies subject to the law must follow. The OML is also silent on many issues both the public and public bodies face when trying to understand the law. The following describes some of the most common “myths” about the law.
Myth One: The OML requires a public body to provide advance notice of its regular meetings.
Fact: The OML requires the body to establish a schedule for regular meetings and keep that schedule on file at its primary offices. If the body changes the time or location from the regular meeting schedule, an advance notice must be provided.
Myth Two: The OML requires public bodies to follow Roberts Rules of Order or another parliamentary process when conducting a public meeting.
Fact: There is no such OML requirement. Since it certainly is good practice to use a parliamentary process to provide structure to the meeting and conduct business efficiently, many public bodies have adopted all or part of Roberts Rules of Order or some other parliamentary process as part of their bylaws or other procedures.
Myth Three: An action of a public body can be reversed because the body did not comply with the OML in conducting the meeting at which the action was taken.
Fact: There is not a remedy in the OML that reverses or voids a public body’s actions or decisions made during an illegal meeting. The penalties for violations of the OML are court imposed fines and, in some cases, forfeiture of office. In addition, there is not an entity that investigates OML violations or otherwise enforces the law. All enforcement must be done through the court system.
Myth Four: The OML gives the public the right to speak at an open meeting.
Fact: Generally, the OML gives the public the right to attend meetings of public bodies in order to watch and listen to the proceedings. It does not guarantee the right to speak at a meeting that is open to the public. If a public body chooses to allow public comments, the body can set the parameters for those comments.
Myth Five: The OML requires public bodies to prepare meeting agendas and meeting minutes.
Fact: With limited exceptions, the OML does not require preparation of agendas or minutes. Section 13D.01, subdivision 4, does require public bodies to record and maintain votes of its members. In addition, Minnesota’s Official Records Act (Minnesota Statutes, section 15.17) requires the public body to “make and preserve all records necessary to a full and accurate knowledge of [its] official activities.”
Myth Six: A public body must wait until minutes are approved before releasing them to the public.
Fact: The OML is silent about the timing on the release of meeting minutes. Various advisory opinions have discussed that notes taken at a meeting for the purpose of preparing minutes, and minutes in draft form, are public data and must be provided to anyone upon request (see Advisory Opinions 04-018 and 00-030).