I might be serving on a public committee subject to open meeting laws. These laws in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, such as RSA VI-91-A , stipulate that all deliberations must be held in a meeting open to the public.

The problem is that some issues discussed by the committee may be very complicated and difficult to discuss in a limited time format public meeting. If a committee member wants to write a memo to the committee dealing with some complex issue, then how does that jive with the open meeting laws? Is it possible to just file the memo as a "public document" somehow, or is it basically illegal to write memos to the other members of the committee?

  • Are you in a jurisdiction where they have open meeting laws, but no open public records laws? They usually go hand in hand. – PoloHoleSet Feb 20 '19 at 16:29

The gathering of a quorum of members of the committee in an email converstation "for the purpose of discussing or acting upon a matter or matters over which the public body has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power." is a meeting, according to the terms of the terms of the linked regulation. And so any such "meeting" must be made public. This would mean publishing the emails, for example on the website.

Note, however, "Circulation of draft documents which, are intended only to formalize decisions previously made in a meeting" is explictly excluded from this definition of a meeting.

So, for example, in a regular meeting, you may discuss a matter such as "options for the construction of a new bicycle shed". Having talked about it the meeting publicly decides to build it in brick, and asks you to form a detailed design specification. You create this and circulate it in private. At the next meeting, the detailed document is introduced, approved and finalized, and appended to the public minutes.

You can write memos to confirm and add details to a matter previously discussed in open meeting. If you are circulating information then you are not meeting "for the purpose of discussing and acting upon matters over which [you] have control". That is not a problem. The problem comes if you use email as a way to avoid scrutiny. For example by canvassing opinions or collecting promises of votes at the public meeting. You should not use private memos as a way of avoiding public scrutiny.

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  • Writing memos after the meeting doesn't help me. The whole point of the memo is to summarize a complex issue BEFORE the meeting. – Tyler Durden Feb 20 '19 at 0:13
  • I've edited to clarify. Circulate OK. Discuss No. – James K Feb 20 '19 at 16:20

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