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Coronavirus and the Open Meetings Act

The Ethics Commission staff has recently received various inquiries regarding compliance with the Open Meetings Act due to the unique circumstances caused by coronavirus outbreak.  The following is the opinion of Ethics Commission staff.

Emergency Meeting

  • If a governing body needs to meet to discuss or vote on an issue relating to the coronavirus outbreak, the governing body may call an emergency meeting if immediate attention is required to address an issue relating to the same.   (W. Va. Code § 6-9A-2(2)(A)).  
  • A governing body must post an emergency meeting notice as soon as practicable prior to the meeting, and an emergency meeting agenda and minutes must include the facts and circumstances of the emergency.  State agencies must electronically file a notice of the emergency meeting with the Secretary of State.   
  • The governing body may only call an emergency meeting if it meets the emergency meeting test not because it is merely more convenient to hold an emergency meeting in lieu of a special or regular meeting.

Meeting telephonically or via live audio or visual stream

  • For emergency, special or regular meetings, a governing body may meet telephonically or via live audio or visual stream if members of the public may also attend.  Open Meetings Act Opinion 1999-08.
  • The governing body may allow members of the public to attend by providing them access to a public meeting room in which they may at a minimum hear the telephonic or video meeting.  For example, a governing body may have a speaker phone or a computer with audio or video feed in a city council meeting room.   
  • It is the opinion of Ethics Commission staff 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 allow citizens to attend in person.  The governing body may instead provide citizens with a call-in number for a telephonic meeting or provide access via web link to a livestream of the meeting.  For example, governing bodies may meet via Skype or Webex or may stream a meeting on Facebook or other platforms.  [This advice is based upon staff’s interpretation of Open Meetings Act Opinion 2010-02.]

Note:  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.

This staff opinion 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.


--Advisory Opinions issued: The Ethics Commission issued three Advisory Opinions on April 2. To view AO 2020-06, click here. To view AO 2020-07, click here. To view AO 2020-08, click here.
 

--Lobbyist spending: To view Activity Reports filed by lobbyists registered with the Ethics Commission for the September 1, 2019-December 31, 2019, reporting period, click here.  To view a summary of lobbyist spending for the September 1, 2019, to December 31, 2019, reporting period, click here.

--2019 Annual Report: To view the 2019 Annual Report for the Ethics Commission, click here.

--Newsletter: To view the fifth issue of the Ethics Commission's newsletter focusing on Ethics Act and Open Meetings Act provisions of interest to county and municipal officials and employees, click here.

--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.