The posting of public meetings is essential to the public’s Right To Know what their government is doing on their behalf. In order for the public to have access to their government it is essential to know when and where meetings are held.
Part I Article 8 of the NH Constitution – All power residing originally in, and being derived from, the people, all the magistrates and officers of government are their substitutes and agents, and at all times accountable to them. Government, therefore, should be open, accessible, accountable and responsive. To that end, the public’s right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.
Under RSA 91-A:2 Meetings Open to Public, public officials are required to post all meetings with a minimum of 24 hour notice, except in an emergency, in order to inform the public so they may attend. The 24 hour notice excludes counting Sundays and legal holidays. The posting needs to include the date, time and place of the meeting. If a meeting is not properly posted, public officials may not meet to conduct the public’s business. A “Best Practice” would be to give the public 3 to 5 days notice of a meeting and leaves no question if the meeting was properly posted in time.
Postings must be in 2 appropriate places that can be seen by the public at any time. Public officials are allowed to use 2 physical sites such as the town hall and a second posting on another readily available public bulletin board, public agency website, or in a newspaper of general circulation within the municipality.
It is suitable if public officials who have regular meetings on a certain day of the week, at the same time, to make a single posting in 2 places that are constantly available to the public. This type of posting may say selectmen’s meeting every Monday night at 6:30 or planning board meeting the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. However, it is incumbent on the public official to monitor this type of posting and make sure it has not been removed. If it has, even accidentally, they must repost this common meeting time again with 24 hours notice in order to meet at their regularly scheduled time.
If the commonly scheduled business meeting is interrupted by a holiday or for any other reason, the public official should be courteous and post that the meeting is canceled. And when a regular meeting is rescheduled to a different time, 24 hours notice is still required.
When other types of meetings are scheduled, the posting should include the date, time and place for the meeting and must have at least 24 hours notice. A good practice is to include the reason when meetings are for reasons other than conducting the usual business. Courtesy goes a long way towards creating a spirit of good will between officials and the public. The decision to hold these extra work session meetings should be made at a properly posted meeting, unless it is an emergency meeting, and the decision must be recorded in the minutes.
Non-public meetings are also required to be posted with 24 hours notice. However, a separate meeting notice is not required when a non-public meeting is initiated during a properly noticed public meeting.
Emergency meetings are the exception to the 24 hour rule. Just the same, public officials must make all reasonable efforts to inform the public of the meeting so they may attend. Some ways this can be done are by calling the local radio station, calling regular attendees, asking businesses to post fliers and asking for business signs about town to be lettered. An emergency means a situation that imposes immediate risk to life, health, property or environment and requires urgent and immediate action to mitigate further harm or worsening of the situation.
Public officials are not required to post meetings for the following:
RSA 91-A:2 Meetings Open to Public. – I.
(a) Strategy or negotiations with respect to collective bargaining;
(b) Consultation with legal counsel;
(c) A caucus consisting of elected members of a public body of the same political party who were elected on a partisan basis at a state general election or elected on a partisan basis by a town or city which has adopted a partisan ballot system pursuant to RSA 669:12 or RSA 44:2; or
(d) Circulation of draft documents which, when finalized, are intended only to formalize decisions previously made in a meeting; provided, that nothing in this subparagraph shall be construed to alter or affect the application of any other section of RSA 91-A to such documents or related communications.
Remember, it is your Right To Know your NH government and it is the public official’s duty under the law to ensure and safeguard your rights by posting meetings properly.
II. Except in an emergency or when there is a meeting of a legislative committee, a notice of the time and place of each such meeting, including a nonpublic session, shall be posted in 2 appropriate places one of which may be the public body’s Internet website, if such exists, or shall be printed in a newspaper of general circulation in the city or town at least 24 hours, excluding Sundays and legal holidays, prior to such meetings. An emergency shall mean a situation where immediate undelayed action is deemed to be imperative by the chairman or presiding officer of the public body, who shall post a notice of the time and place of such meeting as soon as practicable, and shall employ whatever further means are reasonably available to inform the public that a meeting is to be held.