Is This Meeting Subject to Open Meetings Law?
A group is subject to the Open Meetings Law if it is a public body that is holding an official meeting. Virtually all standing committees and some search committees are subject to the Open Meetings Law.
A public body at NC State is any elected or appointed committee or group that (1) consists of at least 2 people, (2) at least 1 person is not an Administrative Officer, (3) is formed by the Board of Trustees, Chancellor, or a Vice Chancellor, (4) deals with matters that affect NC State on a university-wide basis, and (5) exercises or is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function.
An administrative officer includes all Senior Academic and Administrative Officer Tier-I (SAAO Tier-I), Senior Academic and Administrative Officer Tier-II (SAAO Tier-II), and permanent EHRA Professionals (primary appointment, e.g. departmental heads). Administrative Officers do not include faculty and SHRA staff, students, student workers, temporary employees, volunteers and interns, alumni, and members of the general public.
An official meeting occurs when a majority of the public body is communicating, and the communication is for the purpose of conducting hearings, deliberations, voting, or otherwise transacting business within the scope of the committee’s jurisdiction or charge. 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 responsibilities of a public body?
The public body must provide public notice of official meetings. The type and timing of public notice that must be given coincides with the type of official meeting that is held.
Generally, the most frequent type of official meeting held by NC State public bodies is a regular meeting. A regular meeting occurs when the public body maintains a list of pre-scheduled meetings. The public notice requirements for a regular meeting include: (1) maintaining a list of pre-scheduled meetings showing the time and place of each regular meeting, (2) the chair or chair designated administrator maintains this list, (3) the list is posted on the appropriate university’s website, and (4) any revisions to the schedule must be completed at least seven (7) days before the rescheduled meeting.
Public notice of other official meetings must be provided in accordance with statutory requirements at least 48 hours in advance, except in cases of emergency. Other official meetings and their notice requirements may be found at NCSU REG 04.00.03 – Open Meetings. Please visit the University Calendars’ website for assistance with posting notice of official meetings to the online University Calendar.
The public body must keep full and accurate minutes of its meetings. The purpose of the minutes is to provide a record of actions taken by the public body, not to record all discussions that took place.
May a public body hold a closed session of an official meeting?
A public body may enter a closed session and exclude the public only in certain specified instances in order to act in the public interest. 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 but are not limited to:
- prevent the disclosure of privilege or confidential information that is protected under the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act;
- prevent premature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize, or similar award;
- 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;
- discuss the acquisition of real property;
- discuss personnel matters; or
- plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations of alleged criminal misconduct.
The public body must keep full and accurate minutes and a general account of its closed sessions. The purpose of the minutes is to document any action taken in closed session. The purpose of a general account is to show a record of the general discussion that took place in the closed session.
Please refer to the Motion to Go into Closed Session checklist accessible here for the correct procedure to enter a 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.
What if Someone is Disrupting a Meeting?
Ask the person to leave. If the person refuses to leave the meeting, contact University Police for assistance.
For the convenience of public bodies, templates and a quick reference checklist are provided:
Guidance for Standing Committees are posted by the Provost here.
The NC General Statutes pertaining to meetings are at Chapter 143, Article 33C.
NC State’s Open Meetings Regulation NCSU REG 04.00.03 – Open Meetings.
Please address questions to the University Records Officer in the Office of General Counsel.