Alaska Open Meetings Act

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The Alaska Open Meetings Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted in the state of Alaska. Statutes 44.62.310 - 44.62.470 of the Alaska code define the law.

Statement of purpose

The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states, "All meetings of a governmental body of a public entity of the state are open to the public."[1] and that:

(1) the governmental units mentioned in AS 44.62.310 (a) exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business;

(2) it is the intent of the law that actions of those units be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly;

(3) the people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them;

(4) the people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know;

(5) the people's right to remain informed shall be protected so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created;

(6) the use of teleconferencing under this chapter is for the convenience of the parties, the public, and the governmental units conducting the meetings.[1]

What government meetings are open to the public?

All meetings, including teleconferencing, of an Alaska governmental body of a public entity are open to the public, unless exempt by statute.

While not expressly exempt, advisory committees are not subject to the same enforcement of the law as are public bodies which decide policy.

What government bodies are subject to the laws?

The act defines government body as any assembly, council, board, commission, committee or public entity that either advises or decides public policy, including all subordinate committees that have at least two members of a governmental body. Public entities include all subdivisions of the state as well as the state universities. The definition does, however, expressly exempt the state judiciary and state legislature.

Other notable exemptions to the definition of public body include:

  • A governmental body performing a judicial or quasi-judicial function when holding a meeting solely to make a decision in an adjudicatory proceeding
  • Juries
  • Parole or pardon boards
  • A hospital medical staff
  • The governmental body or any committee of a hospital when holding a meeting solely to act upon matters of professional qualifications, privileges or discipline
  • Staff meetings or other gatherings of the employees of a public entity (including meetings of an employee group established by policy of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska or held while acting in an advisory capacity to the Board of Regents)
  • The purpose of participating in or attending a gathering of a national, state, or regional organization of which the public entity, governmental body, or member of the governmental body is a member, but only if no action is taken and no other subject is discussed.[1]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

The legislature is explicitly exempted from the Alaska Open Meetings Act under Alaska statute, 44.62.310(h)(3)].

Notice requirements

"Reasonable" public notice must be given for all meetings subject to this act. It must include information about the date, time and location, as well as teleconferencing facilities if the meeting will take place via teleconference. Notices can be announced through the media but must be placed at the office of the public body, or at some other designated location.[1]

Meeting process

The state law requires voting to be done in public open meetings and recorded so that the public may know who has voted.

Alaska law permits teleconferencing in holding public meetings, so long as it does not impede the public from participating. The law also requires that the public be provided with all material which will be discussed, if possible, and that the vote is taken through roll call.

Executive sessions

Common executive session exemptions
Personal privacy (including employees)Yes.pngp
Attorney-client privilege/litigation
Security/police information
Purchase or sale of property
Union negotiations
Licensing exams/decisions
Exempt under other lawsYes.pngp

All meetings where deliberation, voting or discussion is taking place must be open, unless the governmental body votes by a majority to make the meeting an executive session.

Executive sessions must be called open until a majority vote of the governmental body deems the content private. Subjects other than the ones mentioned at the motion calling cannot be opened at executive sessions unless they are related to the meeting's main question. Executive meetings are not for taking action, except to give direction to an attorney or labor negotiator regarding the handling of a specific legal matter or pending labor negotiations.

Executive sessions can be convened for the following topics:

  • information that would adversely affect public finances
  • subjects that would probably prejudice the reputation and character of any person
  • matters required to be confidential by law or municipal charter
  • matters that involve public records which are exempt from release; for information on this, see Alaska Public Records Act.[1]

If violated

If action is taken during a meeting that was supposed to be open but was not, a lawsuit to void it must be filed in superior court within 180 days after the date of the action. The governing body can eliminate the lawsuit by personally voiding the action and reconsidering the matter in question at an appropriately announced open meeting.

The court will make its decision about whether the action should be voided based on the balance between the public interest in holding an open meeting versus the harm to public interest in voiding the particular action. Factors that weigh into this balance include but are not limited to:

  • Expenses to the public entity and individuals that will be accrued by voiding the action
  • The disruption that may be caused by voiding the action
  • The exposure to potential future litigation
  • The extent to which the governing body has considered the subject in previous open meetings
  • The amount of time that has passed since the action was taken and the degree to which individuals have come to rely on the action
  • Whether the government has tried to reconsider the matter
  • The degree to which violations were "willful, flagrant, or obvious"
  • The degree to which the governing body failed to adhere to the policy[1]

Statute 310:g of the law exempts committees designed for strictly advisory purposes from punishment for failure to adhere to the open meetings law.[1]

See also

External links

References

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Alaska sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in Alaska {cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
City of Kenai v. Kenai Peninsula Newspapers 1982


Proposed open meetings legislation

2010

See also Proposed transparency legislation, Open meetings legislation


We do not currently have any legislation for Alaska in 2010.