Quick Guide to the MA Open Meeting Law – Part 1 of 3



When members of a public body in Massachusetts deliberate with each other regarding matters under the jurisdiction of that public body, the exchange (verbal, written, or electronic) has to be open to the public.


On its face, the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law is a pretty all-encompassing blunt instrument.  The underlying intent of the law is clear: both the decisions and the decision-making processes of public bodies must be open to the public.

  • Does this law create additional burdens on public bodies?  You bet it does.
  • Does this law slow things down and make government less efficient?  It clearly has such an impact but Lawmakers concluded that such costs are outweighed by the benefits of public participation.
  • Does this law enable public bodies to exercise discretion in its implementation?  The statute is not a suggestion from the Legislature, it is the law.

What is a public body?  Any multi-member government entity – state, county, district, city, region, or town – established to serve a public purpose is subject to the law.  In short, all government panels, committees, boards, or commissions involved in creating or implementing policies or actions are subject to the law.  The list of exceptions is short: the Judicial Branch; the Legislature & its committees; and individual government officials (e.g., a police chief) & their staffs.

What is considered a deliberation?  In one of the fuzzier aspects of the law, a deliberation is defined as the exchange of relevant information involving a quorum, or simple majority, of the public body.  In other words, communications between less than a quorum are not subject to the law.  This proviso, of course, opens up potential avenues to evade the law, and Courts have held that the law applies when such attempted evasion is detected.

There are five exceptions to what would otherwise be meetings subject to the law:

  • On-site inspections, provided no deliberations occur.
  • Conferences, training, & events, provided no deliberations occur.
  • Meetings of another public body, provided only open participation & no deliberations occur.
  • Adjudicatory proceedings by quasi-judicial boards & commissions.
  • Town Meetings.

What are the Public Notice requirements?

Advance notice of at least two business days (48 hours) shall be given to the public by the public body.  Public notice for emergency meetings must be issued as early as practicable before the meeting.

Because of the wide range of public bodies (local, county, regional, district, state) covered by the law, the requirements for the actual posting of public notices varies by jurisdiction.  However, these requirements uniformly demand that the notices be visible to the public 24-hours-a-day whether on a website, bulletin board, or 24-hour facility.Open Meeting Law 2

The contents of public notices are to include meeting details (date, time, place) and a reasonably detailed description of the topics expected to be addressed.

Can public body members attend meetings remotely?  A policy governing remote participation must first be adopted by the public body’s jurisdictional executive power.  Depending on the jurisdiction, this may be the mayor, board of selectmen, city council, county commissioners, or a majority of the public body itself.

Following adoption of a remote participation policy, any member can participate remotely if approved by the chair for one of the following reasons:

  • Personal illness
  • Personal disability
  • Emergency
  • Military Service
  • Geographic distance

Remote participation requires that the meeting attendees and the remote member be clearly audible to each other.  Any technology that meets this requirement is acceptable, while texting, emails, and non-audible web chat are not.  Importantly, a quorum that includes the meeting’s chair must be physically present at the meeting location.

How can the public participate in meetings?  Members of the public can attend public meetings but are excluded from validly called Executive Sessions.  Additionally, the public may make audio and/or video recordings of the meeting after informing the meeting’s chair.  The law does not grant the public a right to address the meeting, which authority remains with the meeting’s chair.

About the Author:  Elizabeth Tice heads up OfficeSolutionsPlusLLC.com, where we provide documents of record for all venues, including Open Meetings, Administrative meetings, executive sessions, court reporting, depositions and public hearings, and transcription of all types.  We understand the importance and value of accurate records.  617-471-3510. Try us out!


The preceding is Part 1 of a three part summary-reference series, the OS+ Quick Guide to Massachusetts’ Open Meeting Law.  The topics addressed in the series are:

This Quick Guide is intended for summary reference only and does not purport to comprehensively address all aspects of this law.  For additional and complete details on the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, readers are directed to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website: http://www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/open-meeting-law/


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