City To Framingham To Mirror New Commonwealth Law on Remote Meetings Through April 1, 2022

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Most of this report is a press release from the City of Framingham

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The City of Framingham issued a press release this afternoon, that it would adhere to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts law signed by the Governor on June 16.

That includes allowing remote meetings to continue through April 1, 2022.

Under Section 20 of Chapter 20, a public body may allow remote participation by all members in any meeting of the public body without the need for a quorum of the body and the Chair to be physically present at a specified meeting location.

However, a public body that elects to conduct its proceedings remotely must ensure that any party entitled or required to appear before it shall be able to appear through remote means.

Under the new legislation, public bodies shall not be required to conduct their meetings in a public place that is open and physically accessible to the public so long as the public body ensures interested members of the public have access to the deliberations of the public body through adequate, alternative means.

“Adequate, alternative means of public access” is defined as “measures that provide transparency and permit timely and effective public access to the deliberations of the public body, including, but not limited to, providing public access through telephone, internet, satellite-enabled audio or video conferencing or any other technology that enables the public to clearly follow the proceedings of the public body while those activities are occurring.”

A public body is required to offer its selected adequate, alternative means of public access to its proceedings without a subscription, toll, or similar charge to the public.

Framingham’s City Solicitor has stated the City’s current use of Zoom conferencing for public meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic satisfies the requirements of Section 20 of Chapter 20.

Where active, real-time participation by members of the public is a specific requirement of a general or special law, regulation, or a local ordinance or by-law, any adequate, alternative means of public access shall provide for such participation and shall be sufficient to meet the participation requirement.

Although Chapter 20 provides that any “proceeding” can take place remotely, if active real-time participation by the public is required by the applicable statute or ordinance, the adequate, alternative means of public access must allow for that participation.

If a Board or Commission is unsure whether a particular hearing may be conducted fully remotely, please contact the City Solicitor’s office in advance for guidance.

Under Chapter 20, the provisions allowing fully remote meetings will automatically expire or “sunset” on April 1, 2022, at which point the Open Meeting Law returns to its pre-COVID-19 provisions.

Under the pre-COVID-19 Open Meeting Law provisions, remote meetings can only occur under the Remote Participation Policy issued by the Mayor, which requires that the Chair and a quorum of the Board to be physically present at the meeting and further requires that certain other formalities be observed in advance for a member to participate remotely. (The Disability Commission is allowed to meet fully remotely under the pre-COVID-19 provisions of the Open Meeting Law.)

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