State officials laid out the state statutes that define the rules of public access Thursday as 100 people gathered in the Miami Civic Center ballroom.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson and his Assistant Attorney General Gay Tudor spent the day in Miami as part of a statewide series of workshops designed to “bring government closer to people and to allow the actions of public bodies maximum access and input from their constituents.
Tudor led the bulk of the presentation, emphasizing the importance of the public's right to be informed and the responsibility of public offices to be both accommodating and transparent.
“It is your job to make it easy for the public to know what is going on, Tudor said.
Tudor reiterated the words of Edmondson who has stated publicly that “when there are questions of openness in government, the ultimate intent of the law is that the public be informed.
Questions from the audience caused Tudor to delve heavily into matters regarding executive sessions, proper agendas, proper posting, meeting minutes, research fees and defining public records.
Tudor advised that business-related e-mails generated by public officials - whether generated on an office computer or a home computer - are a public record.
Additionally, she cautioned public officials to be mindful of a growing risk in today's culture that “reply to all can turn an e-mail response into an Internet-based meeting and a violation of the Open Meeting Act.
The three-hour workshop brought Delaware, Ottawa and Craig county officials, local high school students, schoolboard administrators, non-profit organization administrators and a host of citizens to Miami.
Organizers were pleased with the turnout and applauded the participants' interest in furthering their understanding of the rules that apply to open government.
Throughout the workshop, the following items were among the statements made by either Tudor or Edmondson:
Public bodies which choose to allow pubic comment, must include the public comments in the meeting minutes.
Executive session minutes must be kept.
Media working on an article cannot be charged a research fee.
Public bodies cannot use fees as a deterrent or a means to discourage public access.
Minutes of a meeting become a public document at the point in which they are created. Clerks cannot hold minutes until they are formally approved by a public body. The minutes should be noted as “draft until they become official.
Teleconferencing and videoconferencing are allowed by all public bodies. However, there must be a quorum in at least one location and an agenda must be posted that indicates all off-site locations. Those sites must also be open to the public. Also, the remote locations must be within the jurisdiction of the office holder.