State advises local govts. on meetings

Public rules can be suspended in crisis

March 24, 2020 Cranberry Local News

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In light of the coronavirus, the state's Office of Open Records recently updated its advisory to local and county governments on how they can comply with the Sunshine Act, which oversees how government meetings must be held, during the outbreak.

Under normal circumstances, according to the agency, meetings in which governments conduct official business — consisting of voting or deliberating on actions — must be held in public with open public participation whenever possible.

But because the entire commonwealth is under a declaration of disaster emergency following Gov. Tom Wolf's action earlier this month, local government, school districts and municipalities are legally permitted to “suspend the need to comply with certain laws and requirements,” so long as the suspensions are related to the emergency, according to the OOR.

OOR executive director Erik Arneson said that while that could include the Sunshine Act, local officials would still be required to post meeting minutes and would be encouraged to both record and post a recording of the meeting.

“Agencies should bear in mind that transparency builds trust, especially in times of crisis,” the OOR's guidance stated.

Municipalities, school districts and the county could comply with both the Sunshine Act and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation against gatherings of 50 or more people by holding a meeting via telephone, webinar or “other electronic method that allows for two-way communication,” according to the OOR.

In Butler County, however, most municipalities canceled upcoming meetings and postponed official business until it is feasible to again meet.

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Alex J. Weidenhof

Alex J. Weidenhof