Urgent: Governor’s COVID-19 Executive Order And Public Meeting Practices
by Derek P. Cole on March 12, 2020
posted in Meetings,
Today, Governor Newsom issued an executive order concerning COVID-19 (the “coronavirus”) that, among other things, suspended portions of the Brown Act to expand the authorizations of teleconferencing in local public meetings. The executive order also recommends local agencies implement measures to ensure “social distancing” in their public meetings and events. “Social distancing” is the practice of keeping appropriate distances (six feet is often recommended) between persons.
In light of this executive order, a council or board may meet completely by phone as long as the noticing of the teleconference is done 72 hours (regular meetings) or 24 hours (special meetings) ahead of time in the same way as now required, and there is at least one public place where the public can come to hear and comment. In addition, at least a quorum of the board or council must be calling in or connecting from locations with the agency territory.
Whether or not teleconferencing is utilized, agencies should immediately implement appropriate “social distancing” and other effective health measures in their meetings. We recommend that agencies consider doing the following:
— Provide for speakers or microphones outside the board or council chambers, especially if attendance at agency meetings generally fills all, or substantially all, of the seating areas for audiences;
— Where attendance is generally smaller, and does not take up the full audience seating, arrange or modify the seating areas so that six feet is maintained between audience members who attend; and
— Provide hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes for microphones and podiums used by the public to address councils or boards.
Agencies should also consider which items to include on their agendas for the foreseeable meetings in which COVID-19 concerns will exist. Often, meeting agendas include ceremonial proclamations and presentations by organizations, businesses, and other agencies that result in attendance of members of the public for just those items. Agencies should consider postponing these items to future dates to reduce the number of audience members that attend for items that may not directly relate to agency business. Councils and boards should strongly consider focusing on “mission critical” and “essential” agenda items for the period in which the current public-health concerns persist.
The bottom line: It is important that your agency act immediately to modify its meeting practices to address the current and serious public-health concerns that exist. You should immediately consider whether to take advantage of the expanded teleconferencing opportunity the Governor’s Executive Order provides. And you should immediately implement all measures necessary to ensure appropriate “social distancing” in your public meetings.