Citizen Access to Government
West Virginia's law requiring meetings of governing bodies be open to the public has grown stronger since it was first enacted in 1975. The Legislature revised the Open Governmental Proceedings Act in 2013. This revision defines emergency meetings and requires meeting notices to be filed on the Secretary of State's website at least five business days prior to the meeting. Extensive revisions were also made in 1999 to ensure that governing bodies do not exclude citizens from their deliberations and their actions. Although the Act has exceptions allowing executive sessions for governing bodies to discuss individual personnel, law enforcement, contract and some legal matters, the premise of the Act is that decisions affecting the public are made in the open, and not behind closed doors.
Which Governing Bodies are Covered?
State, county, and municipal administrative and legislative bodies are required to comply with the Open Governmental Proceedings Act. Other organizations, such as state policy committees and public corporations, may be required to comply if the organization meets the definition of "public agency" in the Act, or if the law specifies a body is subject to the Act. Private foundations and organizations are usually not covered by the Act, even though the organization may serve the public.
The 1999 revisions to the Act created the "West Virginia Ethics Commission Committee on Open Governmental Meetings" as a three-member sub-committee of the Ethics Commission. A governing body or governing body member may request an advisory opinion regarding the application of the Act to their organization from this committee. For more information, contact the Ethics Commission.
All bodies covered by the Open Governmental Proceedings Act are required to give public notice of their meetings. Local governing bodies give notice through the media and by posting, but state governing bodies must electronically file a notice on the Secretary of State's website.
Official Interpretation & The Open Meetings Act
Requests for advisory opinions and interpretation of the Act should be directed to the WV Ethics Commission Committee on Open Governmental Meetings, which is charged with interpreting the requirements of the Act in specific circumstances.
The Attorney General is required to compile a summary of the statutory and case law interpreting the Open Meetings Act for the purpose of informing all public officials of the requirement of the Act. The Open Meetings Handbook will be provided to the Secretary of State, county clerks, municipal clerks and recorders for distribution to all elected and appointed officials within their jurisdictions.
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