IS MY MEETING SUBJECT TO OPEN MEETINGS LAW?
“Official meetings” of “public bodies” must be open to the public. This includes most university standing committees and some search committees.
A “public body” at NC State is:
- any committee or group established by a vice chancellor or higher authority,
- whose membership is not just university administrators,
- that deals with matters on a university-wide basis, and
- makes findings, decisions, or recommendations on a quasi-legislative, quasi-judicial, policy-making, or administrative action.
An “official meeting” occurs when:
- a majority of the public body attends the meeting, and
- the meeting is for the purposes of conducting hearings, deliberations, voting, or otherwise conducting public business.
Official meetings may be conducted in person, or by conference call, video conference, or other electronic means. Informal gatherings may not be used to evade the law.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS FOR AN OFFICIAL MEETING?
The public body must provide public notice of official meetings:
If the public body holds regular meetings, a schedule of those regular meetings must be filed with the NC State Secretary and posted on the public body’s website. Public notice of other meetings must be provided in accordance with statutory requirements at least 48 hours in advance, except in cases of emergency. There are additional notice requirements for persons who request email or mailed notice. Please contact University Communications (http://www.ncsu.edu/university-communications/) for assistance with posting notice of official meetings.
The public body must keep full and accurate minutes of its meetings.
The public body must make and adopt a motion to enter closed session:
A public body may enter a closed session and exclude the public only in certain specific instances in order to act in the public interest. In order to enter a closed session, the public body must make and adopt a motion in open session citing the statutory basis authorizing the closed session. Some justifications for closed sessions include:
- To prevent premature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize, or similar award;
- To consult with an attorney to preserve the attorney-client privilege. However, the discussion must involve a legal matter. A meeting cannot be closed simply because a lawyer is present;
- To discuss the acquisition of real property;
- To discuss an employment contract;
- To consider an employee’s qualifications and performance, or complaints or grievances involving an employee;
- To plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations of alleged criminal misconduct.
See http://www.provost.ncsu.edu/governance/openmeet/closed-sessions.php for a script to use when making a motion to enter closed session.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR FAILURE TO COMPLY?
When a public body fails to comply with the laws pertaining to official meetings, a court may declare actions taken during the meeting to be null and void. In addition, the court may award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party when a meeting is successfully challenged in court and direct members of the public body to pay such fees personally in the event of an intentional violation.
The NC General Statutes pertaining to meetings are at Chapter 143, Article 33C.
Guidance for committee chairs and other advice are posted by the Provost at http://www.provost.ncsu.edu/governance/openmeet/index.php.
Call the Office of General Counsel at 919-515-3071 for assistance.