Fri, July 19

Jerome officials learn the law
Town's attorneys give update on open-meeting rules

The Jerome Town Council met in open session Tuesday night with two of its attorneys to learn about Arizona's Open Meeting Law. Included in the session were members of the town's Planning & Zoning Commission, Design Review Board and Board of Adjustments.

Phyllis Smiley and Susan Goodwin of Curtis, Goodwin, Sullivan, Udall & Schwab Law Firm made the presentation.

The gist of the training session was that the public's business should be conducted in public. "That is the basis for the open meeting law," Smiley said. "It applies to all public bodies."

Not only are elected councils considered public bodies, but so are all boards, commissions and committees appointed by the mayor and council. However, committees advising the town manager are not public bodies. Advisory committees are public bodies if they are officially established by the council or mayor for the purpose of making recommendations to the council.

Smiley described a public meeting as occurring any time a quorum of a public body discusses, proposes or takes legal action.

Goodwin said that e-mail might constitute a meeting. "The Attorney General's Office watches very closely," she said.

An example given was if Mayor Bob Bouwman e-mailed the rest of the town council, it would not constitute a public meeting "as long as they don't respond."

Before a public body can hold a public meeting it must first post a notice of the agenda at public places and on the town's Internet site. Public notice must be given 24 hours prior to the meeting, unless it is a notice of emergency.

Goodwin said a legitimate emergency is something that cannot wait 24 hours. "If flood water is running through the middle of town," she said.

Another important rule of public meetings is that nothing can be discussed by the body unless it is on the posted agenda.

All public bodies must keep minutes of their meetings. Smiley said that currently advisory committees do not have to keep minutes. But Goodwin added that the Arizona Legislature just passed a law requiring that advisory committees must begin keeping minutes in August.

Executive sessions were another topic of discussion. An executive session occurs when the public body meets in private. Under Arizona Public Meeting Law, executive sessions are allowed only for specific purposes, such as discussing personnel, obtaining legal advice, discussing litigation or for the purchase, lease or sale of real property.

"You cannot take action in executive session," Smiley said. The body must reconvene its meeting and then take action.