Open Meeting Law
Massachusetts adopted in 1958 its first open meeting law applicable to governmental units at the state, county and municipal levels. The first statute was fairly general in approach, and after a series of amendments over the years, the Open Meeting Law (OML) was substantially revamped in 1975 and again in 2010.
The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to eliminate much of the secrecy surrounding the deliberations and decisions on which public policy is based. It accomplishes this purpose by requiring open discussion of governmental action at public meetings. The requirements of the Open Meeting Law grow out of the idea that the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action taken by their representatives. The overriding intent of the Open Meeting Law is therefore to foster and indeed require open discussion of governmental action at public meetings. Yet the Law does recognize that public officials might be "unduly hampered" if all discussion by public officials were required to be open. As a result, it specifies certain types of issues that may be discussed and decided in a closed session. These exceptions are limited in number and scope.
The Law applies to those meetings of governmental bodies in which a quorum of the body convenes to deliberate on any public business or policy within its jurisdiction. The terms meeting, governmental body, deliberation, and quorum are specifically defined in the law - M.G.L. Chapter 39, §23A.
For covered meetings, the Law lays out specific procedures that must be followed. Most important is that the meeting be open to the public except in ten specific circumstances that are described in the statute. If one of the exceptions applies, the governmental body can meet in an executive session (closed session), provided it follows certain procedural steps. Other critical procedural requirements are that records be maintained of all meetings (including executive sessions) and be made available to the public, and that notice of all meetings (including a detailed agenda) be publicly posted at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting (not including weekends and holidays). In Concord, the bulletin board in the Town House lobby in Monument Square is the official posting location for all meetings. In addition, meetings are posted and available on a 24-hour basis on the Town's website.
Effective July 1, 2010, responsibility for the state-wide enforcement of the Open Meeting Laws, relative to local, county, regional, and state public bodies has been centralized in the office of the Attorney General. For more information, visit the Attorney General's website, Office of Open Government, where you will find a link to their OML Guideline Booklet (PDF), regulations and Acknowledgment of receipt of Open Meeting Law material.
Determination letters issued by the Division of Open Government are a helpful resource for understanding some of the complexities of the law. They are available on the Attorney General's website, arranged by year and may be searched or browsed.