Do committee meetings have to follow public meetings laws if there are less than a quorum of board members on the committee?
October 3, 2014
Committees formed by and reporting to the board have to follow all of the same public meetings law requirements that the board itself has to follow. As long as the committee has a clear charge, and the meeting discussion sticks to the committee topic, it does not matter whether the committee has only non-board members on it, only one board member, or the entire board functioning as a 'Committee of the Whole.' Most boards put less than a quorum of the board on any one sub-committee appointed by the board so that there cannot be the appearance of the committee making a board decision or committing the board to any one position or action. As long as the board committee meeting is properly posted and the discussion stays within the responsibility area of the committee itself, a quorum of the board can legally be present without posting the committee meeting as a board meeting, just as a committee meeting. If this occurs the board members have to be extremely careful not to stray off into board business which is not part of the committee work, "While we are here, lets talk about XYZ..." or they may inadvertently have held an illegal board meeting.
Committees formed by and reporting to the superintendent or other administrator are not subject to the public meetings laws. However, if a quorum of the board is attending one of these committee meetings and will likely participate in the discussions, the committee meeting should follow all public meeting requirements since a quorum of board members is discussing or gathering information related to district business. An example of the posting notice would be: "The superintendent’s advisory committee on the XYZ plan will be meeting on April 14th at 5 pm in the district office room 2 to discuss the report from ABC firm. A quorum of the school board may be in attendance."
When board members attend other organizations' meetings and the discussions focus on school district work, the board should follow public meetings law requirements if a quorum is likely to be present. This provides transparency and heads off any argument regarding whether public meetings law requirements should have been followed. Clearly the other organization's meeting is not a school board meeting, but the attendance of board members if they participate in discussion may be construed as gathering of information and discussion leading to a decision by a quorum of board members. An example might be "A quorum of board members may be in attendance at the Chamber of Commerce meeting on April 14th in the XYZ building at 7:00 pm for a discussion of the community use of the school district fields."
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