Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does A Public Official's Blog Violate the Open Meeting Law?

Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Ben Storrow has an interesting piece today involving the issue of whether blogging by a public official can violate the open meeting law: Concern Over 'Official' Bloggers Spurs Query to DA. As he reports:
Five concerned School Committee chiefs are investigating whether blog postings written by public officials and the often-anonymous threads that follow them somehow violate the state's Open Meeting Law.

On May 18, the leaders of all the Amherst-area school boards - Shutesbury's Michael DeChiara, Amherst's Irv Rhodes, Leverett's Kip Fonsh and Farshid Hajir, and Pelham's Tracey Farnham - sent a letter to the Northwestern district attorney's office seeking a legal opinion on the matter.
I am quoted in the article, saying this:
In my view, the danger is not the blog, but the comments. If other committee members - enough to equal a quorum - post comments to the blog on the same issue, the sum of their comments could be considered a open meeting violation. In my opinion, the only safe course for a school committee member who wants to write a blog is to turn off the comments.
Whatever comes of this, these school committee officials should be commended for their foresight in recognizing the potential for a problem and seeking legal guidance. (Read their letter here.) That said, my belief is that the DA should defer the question to the Attorney General's Office.

In a month, on July 1, the AG takes over all enforcement and interpretation of the open meeting law and the DA will no longer be involved. One of the rationales for this move is to bring consistency to the law's application throughout the state. This is clearly a question of statewide relevance and one that the AG should address, if anyone.


Melissa Brumback said...

If the blog is open to the public with no restrictions, and the public is informed of the blog's existence, wouldn't that negagte open media law issues? (This is not my area of practice so please excuse me if I have overly simplified this issue)

Melissa Brumback

Bob Ambrogi said...

No, because the open meeting law requires certain formalities about how the meeting is convened and conducted. For example, the public must be given advance notice of the meeting and an opportunity to attend.