Meeting while social distancing
What governing bodies and the public should know about public meetings while ‘flattening the curve’
April 1, 2020
With the emphasis that has been placed on the importance of social distancing, and with one of three public health orders prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people, this may leave regular attendees of meetings wondering how to attend. While the order forbidding gatherings of 10 or more people specifically exempts government business, boards and councils throughout the state have worked to find ways to promote social distancing.
According to Wyoming State Statute 16-4-403(a), “all meetings of the governing body of an agency are public meetings, open to the public at all times.” Additionally, Wyoming State Statute 16-4-403(d) states that “No meeting shall be conducted by electronic means or any form of communication that does not permit the public to hear, read or otherwise discern meeting discussion contemporaneously.” In short, any public meeting must be open and accessible to the public at the time it is held.
The Wyoming Press Association issued a press release on March 20 detailing the ways in which a governing body can still meet the requirements of the Wyoming Open Meetings Act.
“Governmental bodies can meet their open meetings obligations, while practicing social distancing to help protect public health, by conducting meetings via telephone or video conferencing if the public is given the same opportunity to attend,” read the release. “Should a person wish to attend a meeting that is being conducted via Zoom, Skype or other electronic means, but does not have a computer, then the governmental entity must make arrangements so they can observe the meeting. It may be that such arrangement be audio only with a toll-free dial-in number.”
The Upper Platte River Solid Waste Disposal District (UPRSWDD) will be following this protocol for their meeting tonight (April 1) as they conduct their meeting via audio conference. The number, for those who want to listen in, is 605-472-5622 and the passcode is 792120.
Additionally, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, the Wyoming County Commissioners Association and the Office of Governor Mark Gordon put out guidance for governing bodies in conducting public meetings in the midst of the novel coronavirus. The very first piece of guidance states that a governing body should assess “whether it really needs to hold a meeting, whether it be a regular or special meeting.”
The three page document further advises that, if the governing body does feel that it needs to meet, the items on the agenda could be reduced so that the governing body could make decisions on essential, urgent or time sensitive business. Such was the case during the March 17 meeting of the Saratoga Town Council.
According to the advisement from the Wyoming Press Association, if any meeting is postponed or cancelled and rescheduled outside of the regular meeting date, it falls under the special meeting rule found in Wyoming State Statute 16-4-404(b) and a minimum of eight hour notice must be given to the media with the time, date and place of the meeting and what subjects will be discussed.
For members of the public who wish to attend a meeting of their governing body, if it is not postponed or cancelled, it is encouraged that they call their respective town halls to determine what ways they will be able to access the meeting.