Governor's Executive Order Relaxes Statutes Regulating Board Meetings To Encourage Teleconferencing In Response To COVID-19

Author:  Omer Khan

Governor Gavin Newsom issued a new executive order on March 12 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The executive order expands public agencies’ ability to use teleconferencing for governing board meetings to promote a new policy of “social distancing.”

All public agencies are “urged to use sound discretion and to make reasonable efforts to adhere as closely as possible” to the laws governing open and public board meetings like the Brown Act.  Laws requiring advanced notice, posted agendas, and public opportunity for comment are still in effect:

  • Public agencies must still give advanced notice of each regular or special governing board meeting by publicly posting meeting agendas.
  • Public agencies must still provide at least one publicly accessible location from which members of the public can observe and offer public comment during governing board meetings, even if no board members are physically present at that location.

However, numerous restrictions on teleconferencing and requirements for board meeting quorums are suspended for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, meaning that:

  • Board members’ teleconference locations do not need to be disclosed and publicly noticed.
  • Board members’ teleconference locations do not need to be accessible to the public.
  • Agendas do not need to be posted at all teleconference locations.
  • No board members are required to be physically present at the publicly noticed location where the public can observe the board meeting and offer public comment.

It is not necessary that a quorum of board members participates from locations within the public agency’s boundaries; however, a quorum of board members is still required, whether they are in person or teleconferencing, to hold a board meeting.

Governance teams should consider how best to use this new flexibility, if at all.  The Executive Order provides broad flexibility, but a primary effect is that board members can participate in board meetings by phone or over the internet from their own homes without the usual requirement to publicly disclose their home addresses and open their homes to the public.

“Social distancing” – maintaining six feet of separation between individuals and avoiding large in-person gatherings – is still highly recommended by the Governor and public health experts.  Even if board members do not wish to take advantage of the loosened restrictions on teleconferencing, public agencies may wish to space out seating in board rooms and offer live broadcasts of meetings.

For further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at Girard, Edwards, Stevens & Tucker LLP.

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