AG’s office takes over Open Meeting Law enforcement in Mass.

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By Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and Robert Nasdor, chief of the Attorney General’s Division of Open Government  

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law was first enacted in 1958 to ensure that all meetings of local government boards and committees are open and accessible to the public and the media.  Under the landmark Ethics Reform legislation enacted in 2009, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office will assume responsibility for all enforcement of the law in order to allow for more consistent enforcement and to provide for more training and education of municipal and county officials.

Our office recognizes that many Open Meeting Law violations are the result of a lack of awareness or understanding of the law, and so our new Division of Open Government will focus on providing training and educational resources — both online and in-person — to public officials who are subject to the law.  We’re developing a comprehensive website that will provide updated Open Meeting Law guidelines, links to the law and the Attorney General’s Office’s regulations, links to advisory opinions and hearing decisions, and other educational materials and resources. We’re also planning regional training and will be available to speak to associations representing municipal officials, city managers, city solicitors/town counsel and city/town clerks, and other officials subject to the Open Meeting Law, as well as the news media.  Our goal is to be a recognizable and readily accessible resource for officials, the news media, and the public. 

One key change in the law is that the Attorney General’s Office will have the authority to issue binding interpretations of the Open Meeting Law, something that the district attorneys did not have.  We’ll be able to help officials avoid violating the law by providing formal and informal guidance to municipalities and other officials before action is taken.  For example, we will provide written opinions applying the Open Meeting Law to a specific set of facts, and we will be able to respond to questions and concerns over the phone. 

We also plan to issue procedural and substantive regulations that will help to fill in any gaps in the Open Meeting Law and respond to issues that arise. If you have questions or suggestions for us as we move forward on implementing these changes, please contact the Division of Open Government at openmeeting@state.ma.us.

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