Sunshine's chill: Overbroad American Open Meetings Laws and the Limits of Disclosure

Steven J. Mulroy

Résumé

[extract] Appropriately enough, symposia on “government transparency” often focus on access to government records, and at the national level. But access to meetings and communications among legislative members, especially local government legislators, has received less attention than it merits.

In the United States, all substantive communications (formal or informal) concerning public business among a quorum of any local legislative body must be made in public during a publicly noticed meeting. Unlike other countries (e.g., New Zealand), this “sunshine” requirement applies even if no actual decisions are made. Curiously, while most U.S. states (A) apply this requirement only to meetings or communications among a quorum of a body (as in Canada), and/or (B) give the legislative body discretion to decide to meet in secret to discuss certain sensitive matters (as in Scandinavian and Eastern European countries), a sizable minority of U.S. states (A) apply this requirement to any substantive communication among 2 or 3 members, far short of a quorum, and (B) have few to no exemptions for discussions of sensitive topics.

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