The City of Edgerton has reduced staff to only people with business in front of the council, and have asked that presenters make their presentations by telephone for the next City Council meeting, scheduled for Thursday, said Kara Banks, director of communications and marketing.
“We are exploring options for a conference line or other online option for the public to view the meeting,” Banks said. “This is a very fluid situation, and we want to abide by CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and state and local health officials’ recommendations, while still adhering to state laws regarding open meetings.”
The Kansas State Attorney General is grappling with how to balance the need for governmental transparency with the need for social distancing with guidelines for technologically supported public meetings. The Open Meetings Act requires that public officials do deliberations and conduct meetings that can be observed by the public, often people whose lives are affected by their decision-making.
“During a time of declared emergency when lives are disrupted, many people are apprehensive, and rumors can run rampant, the importance of ensuring openness and transparency in the government decision-making process is even greater than usual,” Attorney General Derek Schmidt said. “An important way for public bodies to provide reassurance is to go the extra mile to ensure their actions are transparent during the time of emergency. This new guidance will help state and local government bodies throughout Kansas operate transparently even when the public cannot gather in person for meetings.”
Thus, if members of the group use videoconferencing or telephone meetings, they must be open to members of the public. If the group gathers together in person but emergencies limit the ability of the public to participate, then the meeting must be observable by videoconference, television broadcast, or telephone. The members of the governing group must identify themselves by name before speaking or voting, clearly state each motion, and announce each vote tally with clarity, ensuring that the proceedings are understandable.
Guidelines state that procedures for executive session must be explained clearly, with no cost for public participation. A method for agenda distribution also needs to be in place.
Proposed regulations, titled KAR 16-20-1, Compliance with the Kansas open meetings act during an emergency declaration, and Best practices to aid in implementing KAR 16-20-1 concerning open meetings during an emergency declaration, are available on the Kansas state attorney general website at https://www.ag.ks.gov/open-government.
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