Open Meeting Law 101

Arizona’s Open Meeting Law in a Nutshell

Information compiled by:
Liz Hill, Assistant Ombudsman – Public Access
Last revised August 2010

Two core concepts

“All meetings of any public body shall be public meetings and all persons so desiring
shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.” A.R.S. § 38-
431.01(A).

“It is the public policy of this state that meetings of public bodies be conducted openly
and that notices and agendas be provided for such meetings which contain such
information as is reasonable necessary to inform the public of the matters to be discussed
or decided.” A.R.S. § 38-431.09.

Why do we have an Open Meeting Law?

1. To protect the public.
a. To avoid decision-making in secret.
b. To promote accountability by encouraging public officials to act responsively and
responsibly.
2. To protect public officials.
a. To avoid being excluded (notice).
b. To prepare and avoid being blind sided (agenda).
c. To accurately memorialize what happened (minutes).
3. Maintain Integrity of government.
4. Better informed citizenry.
5. Build trust between government and citizenry.

What constitutes a meeting?

A meeting is a gathering, in person or through technological devices of a quorum of a
public body at which they discuss, propose or take legal action, including deliberations.
A.R.S. § 38-431(4). This includes telephone and e-mail communications.

Who must comply with Open Meeting Law?

Public bodies. “Public body” means the legislature, all boards and commissions of this
state or political subdivisions, all multimember governing bodies of departments,
agencies, institutions and instrumentalities of the state or political subdivisions, including
without limitation all corporations and other instrumentalities whose boards of directors
are appointed or elected by the state or political subdivision. Public body includes all
quasi-judicial bodies and all standing, special or advisory committees or subcommittees
of, or appointed by, the public body. A.R.S. § 38-431(6).

“Advisory committee” or “subcommittee” means any entity, however designated, that is
officially established, on motion and order of a public body or by the presiding officer of
the public body, and whose members have been appointed for the specific purpose of
making a recommendation concerning a decision to be made or considered or a course of
conduct to be taken or considered by the public body. A.R.S. § 38-431(1).

The Secretary of State, Clerk of the County Board of Supervisors, and City and Town
Clerks must conspicuously post open meeting law materials prepared and approved by
the Arizona Attorney General’s Office on their website. A person elected or appointed to
a public body shall review the open meeting law materials at least one day before the day
that person takes office. A.R.S. § 38-431.01(G)

What is Required under the Open Meeting Law?

1. Notice

Public bodies must post a disclosure statement on their website or file a disclosure
statement as provided for by statute. The disclosure statement states where the public
body will post individual meeting notices. A.R.S. § 38-431.02(A)(1) through (4).

The open meeting law requires at least 24 hours notice of meetings to the members of the
public body and the general public. A.R.S. § 38-431.02(C).

Notice must be posted on the public body’s website, unless otherwise permitted by
statute. Notice must also be posted at any other electronic or physical locations identified
in the disclosure statement and by giving additional notice as is reasonable and
practicable. A.R.S. § 38-431.02(A)(1) through (4).

2. Agenda

Agendas must contain information reasonably necessary to inform the public of the
matters to be discussed or decided. A.R.S. § 38-431.09.

Agendas must be available at least 24 hours before the meeting. A.R.S. § 38- 431.02(G).

3. Public’s Rights

The public has a right to: Public has no right to:
• Attend Speak
• Listen Disrupt
• Tape record
• Videotape

4. Calls to the Public

An open call to the public is an agenda item that allows the public to address the public
body on topics of concern within the public body’s jurisdiction, even though the topic is
not specifically included on the agenda. Ariz. Att’y Gen. Op. I99-006.

Although the Open Meeting Law permits the public to attend public meetings, it does not
require public participation in the public body’s discussions and deliberations and does
not require a public body to include an open call to the public on the agenda. See Ariz.
Att’y Gen. Op. No. I78-001.

An individual public officer may respond to criticism, ask staff to review an item or ask
that an item be placed on a future agenda, but he or she may not dialogue with the
presenter or collectively discuss, consider, or decide an item that is not listed on the
agenda. A.R.S. § 38-431.01(H); Ariz. Att’y Gen. Op. I99-006. Note that individual
members of the public body may respond to criticism by individuals who addressed the
public body during the call to the public, but the public body may not collectively discuss
or take action on the complaint unless the matter is specifically listed on the agenda.
A.R.S. § 38-431.01(H).

Public bodies may impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speakers.
Restrictions must be narrowly tailored to affect a compelling state interest and may not be
content based. Ariz. Att’y Gen. Op. I99-006.

A member of the public body may not knowingly direct a staff member to communicate
in violation of the Open Meeting Law. A.R.S. 38-431.01(I).

In sum:
• Calls to the public are permitted, but not required.
• Should be added as an agenda item.
• Public body may limit speaker’s time.
• Public body may require speakers on the same side with no new comments to
select spokesperson
• Public body may set ground rules:
o civility
o language
o treat everyone the same

5. Executive Sessions

Public bodies may hold private executive sessions under a few limited circumstances. In
executive sessions, the public is not allowed to attend or listen to the discussions, and the
public body is not permitted to take final action. A.R.S. § 38-431.03(D).

Members of the public body may not vote or take a poll in executive sessions. A.R.S. §
38-431.03(D). 4

There are seven authorized topics for executive sessions:
1. Personnel (must provide 24 hours written notice to employee).
2. Discussion or consideration of records exempt by law from public inspection.
3. Legal advice – with public body’s own lawyer(s).
4. Discussion or consultation with public body’s lawyer(s) to consider pending or
contemplated litigation, settlement discussions, negotiated contracts.
5. Discuss and instruct its representative regarding labor negotiations.
6. Discuss international, interstate, and tribal negotiations.
7. Discuss the purchase, sale, or lease of real property.

Notice and Agenda: Agendas for executive sessions may describe the matters to be
discussed more generally than agendas for public meetings in order to preserve
confidentiality or to prevent compromising the attorney-client privilege. A.R.S. § 38-
431.02(I). Nonetheless, the agenda must provide more than a recital of the statute that
authorizes the executive session.

6. Minutes (A.R.S. §§ 38-431.01(B), (C), (D) and -431.03(B))

Public bodies must take meeting minutes of all meetings, including executive sessions.

May be recorded or written, keeping in mind that permanent records must be on paper.

Public session meeting minutes must include:
• Date, time and place of meeting;
• Names of members of the public body present or absent;
• A general description of matters considered; and
• An accurate description of all legal actions proposed, discussed or taken, and the
names of members who propose each motion. The minutes shall also include the
names of the persons, as given, making statements or presenting material to the
public body and a reference to the legal action about which they made statements
or presented material.

Executive session minutes must include:
• Date, time and place of meeting;
• Names of members of the public body present or absent;
• A general description of matters considered;
• An accurate description of all instructions given; and
• Such other matters as may be deemed appropriate by the public body.

The minutes or a recording of the public session must be open for public inspection no
later than three working days after the meeting, except as otherwise provided in the
statute. A.R.S. § 38-431.01(D).

Cities and towns with a population of more than 2,500 persons must post approved city
and town council minutes on its website within two working days following approval.
A.R.S. § 38-431.01(E)(2).

Minutes of executive sessions must be kept confidential except from certain individuals.
A.R.S. § 38-431.03(B).

How long meeting minutes are maintained is determined by the public body’s record
retention and destruction schedule authorized by Arizona State Library and Archives.

Persons in attendance may record any portion of a public meeting, as long as the
recording does not actively interfere with the meeting. Acceptable recording equipment
includes tape recorders, cameras, or other means of reproduction. A.R.S. § 38-431.01(F).

Where to turn for help?

Self-help resources available:
The Arizona Ombudsman – Citizens’ Aide handbook – The Arizona Open Meeting Law
(available on line at www.azoca.gov under open meetings/publication)
The Arizona Ombudsman’s website, www.azoca.gov
Arizona Agency Handbook, Chapter 7, www.azag.gov – Quick Links
Attorney General Opinions – www.azag.gov – Quick Links

Questions/File a complaint:
Arizona Ombudsman-Citizen’s Aide (602) 277-7292

File a complaint/Enforcement authority
Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (602) 542-5025
County Attorney’s Office