News and Announcements
--Contract Exemption: On October 1, the Ethics Commission issued Contract Exemption 2020-07 to the Clay County Solid Waste Authority. To view the Exemption, click here.
--Newsletter: To view the seventh issue of the Ethics Commission's newsletter, which focuses on complying with the Open Meetings Act during the pandemic, click here.
--Lobbyists suspended: The following lobbyists have been suspended for failing to file a Lobbyist Activity Report and/or for failing to pay fees for filing a late report for the May 1, 2020, to August 31, 2020, reporting period: Dale Hill, Karan Ireland, Raymond Joseph, Morgan Lommele, Jacqueline Lozano-Cerda, and Jennifer McQuerrey.
--Lobbyist spending: To view Lobbyist Activity Reports, click here. To view a summary of lobbyist expenditures for the reporting period of May 1 to August 31, 2020, click here.
Coronavirus and the Open Meetings Act
The current staff guidance regarding the coronavirus and the Open Meetings Act is that allowing citizens to attend a meeting in person is not required if the governing body determines, based upon guidance issued by the federal government, the state of West Virginia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other government agencies authorized to make these types of decisions, that it constitutes a public health risk to permit citizens to attend in person. The governing body may instead provide citizens with a call-in number or provide access via a web link to a livestream of the meeting.
If a governing body is considering permitting in-person attendance in accordance with the type of guidance mentioned above, it is the opinion of staff that permitting a limited number of attendees to attend the meeting in accordance with such guidance would not violate the Open Meetings Act provided that the governing body continues to provide citizens with a call-in number or access to a livestream of the meeting.
The Committee concluded in Open Meetings Advisory Opinion 2008-15 that “there is no provision in the Open Meetings Act which mandates that a governing body of a public agency change the location of a meeting whenever it either finds or reasonably expects that its regular meeting place will not be able to accommodate all those wishing to attend.” The Committee, however, stated that it “strongly encourages any governing body which encounters such a situation to make every reasonable effort to accommodate the attendees, if it can be accomplished without undue hardship to the governing body or interfere with its ability to conduct and efficient public meeting.”
Thus, it is staff’s opinion that if there are more attendees than can reasonably be accommodated to comply with guidance issued by the federal government, the state of West Virginia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other government agencies authorized to make these types of decisions, a governing body’s efforts to accommodate additional attendees through providing a call-in number or access to a livestream of the meeting would meet the minimum requirements of the Open Meetings Act. [This advice is based upon staff’s interpretation of Open Meetings Act Opinion 2010-02.]
- If a governing body is holding a meeting via video streaming, steps should be taken to ensure that members of the public and press are able to hear meeting participants.
- The Open Meetings Act does not require a public agency to allow the public to make public comments during a meeting. Although not required, a public agency may allow written comments to be submitted in lieu of a public comment period.
- This staff advice is limited to the analysis of the Open Meetings Act under the unique circumstances presented. The Ethics Commission is without authority to determine whether other laws or rules, including the policies of any government agency, prohibit or otherwise restrict the way meetings may be held.
--Online search of Disclosures: Completed Financial Disclosure Statements for the following filers for the years 2014-2020 may be viewed using Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge by clicking here:
• Members of the West Virginia Legislature;
• Elected members of the executive department (Governor, Treasurer, Auditor,
Secretary of State, Commissioner of Agriculture, Attorney General);
• Members of the Supreme Court of Appeals, and candidates for these positions.
--Lobbyist Directory: To view the West Virginia Lobbyist directory, click here.