Monday, November 28, 2005

Open Meeting Law & the Internet

Yesterday’s Boston Globe NorthWest weekly section contained an interesting article about the use of the Internet by elected officials. A member of the Westford Board of Selectmen has apparently been posting comments on a private, politically-related bulletin board called Some of the other members of the board of selectmen are concerned about the practice, asserting that it may constitute a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law. Representatives of the Middlesex County District Attorney (the office charged with enforcing the law) recently traveled to Westford to host a seminar on the implications of online communication and the Open Meeting Law. The folks from the DA’s office reminded everyone that any time that three or members of a board come together to discuss official business, it constitutes an official meeting that must be open to the public and notice of which must be posted in accordance with the law. Without addressing the specifics of this case, the DA representatives reminded everyone that if the three or more officials use technology (phones or computers) to communicate, it still constitutes a meeting notwithstanding the fact that the parties to the communication may all be at distant locations. While I can’t imagine a situation where the registry of deeds would be subject to the open meeting law, we do use the Internet extensively to communicate with our users. Ironically, I’ve found that communicating online opens up the process, giving everyone with a computer and an Internet connection and equal opportunity to track what is going on. Nevertheless, since the Open Meeting Law does have broad application and since it’s last amendment was done in 1974, long before the Internet as it now exists was envisioned, cases of this type are exploring new territory in government operations and deserve our close attention.

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