Thursday, August 21, 2014

Research Q of the Week: No, You Can't Phone It In (8/21)

Question: We have a council member that is going to be out of town on the night of our meeting. Can she attend the meeting by telephone?

Answer: No. Not for the purpose of satisfying a quorum requirement and not as a voting member. City councils are only authorized to conduct meetings by telephone when a health pandemic or emergency makes meeting in-person a not-so-good idea. So, a council member can’t just "phone it in."

However, the Open Meeting Law does authorize city councils to conduct meetings by interactive television provided certain conditions are met:
  • All members of the council participating in the meeting must be able to see and hear one another and all discussion and testimony. A council member that attends a meeting by interactive television is considered present for purposes of determining a quorum and participating in the meeting.
  • The council must provide notice of the regular meeting location and any site where a council member will be participating in the meeting by interactive television.
  • Members of the public present at the council’s regular meeting location must be able to see and hear all discussion and testimony and all the votes of council members. 
  • At least one member of the council must be physically present at the council’s regular meeting location. Every location where a council member is present must also be open and accessible to the public. 
  • To the extent it is practical, the council must allow the public to monitor the meeting electronically from a remote location and may require viewers to pay the marginal cost the city incurs to make the additional connection.
Members of the public viewing council meetings remotely are also responsible for furnishing their own popcorn or TV dinners.  

What about Skype? The Department of Administration’s Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD) has issued an advisory opinion holding that a council member can attend a meeting by Skype as long as all of the other conditions required for holding a meeting by interactive television are met.  
For more information on city council meetings and the Open Meeting Law, check out LMC's information memo on Meetings of City Councils.

Written by James Monge. Contact the League's Research and Information Service staff by emailing, or by calling (651) 281-1200 or (800) 925-1122.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information. 

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