AG: Remote meetings due to coronavirus OK under open-meeting law

coronavirus COVID-19
A 3D model of COVID-19, the virus causing the coronavirus. Photo by NIAID-RML | Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In an informal opinion, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the state’s open meeting law allows for public bodies – like city councils and school boards – to conduct public meetings remotely through technological means as they navigate public health amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bronovich wrote that “providing as much public notice in advance is key,” and he advised public bodies to provide more than the 24 hours required by state law if possible. 

In general, Arizona law requires all meetings of governmental entities to be open to the public and for agendas to be published at least 24 hours before the meeting is scheduled to start. The law gives all Arizonans the right to attend and listen to the public body’s deliberations and proceedings.

Brnovich also advised governmental entities that choose to meet remotely to implement best practices to “minimize any difficulties arising from remote conferencing.” For example, he said that all speakers could be asked to identify themselves each time they speak and post any relevant information – such as presentations being made or documents being considered – online for the public to view.

He further cautioned that, while the open meeting laws allow for public bodies to meet via technological means, they “must conduct such meetings in a way that satisfies the… notice and access requirements, which are designed to further the (open meeting law’s) underlying purpose.”

“Transparency is the core of legality. Throughout any circumstance, the government must remain accountable to the people,” Brnovich wrote.

Gov. Doug Ducey on March 11 declared a state of emergency as the state combats the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness. On March 12, the Legislature approved $55 million in emergency funding and limited public access to the State Capitol and legislative chambers.

On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency.

There are nearly 1,700 verified COVID-19 cases in the United States, including nine in Arizona. Nationally, the coronavirus is responsible for 41 deaths; no one in Arizona has died from COVID-19.