Tennessee’s Governor Lee, acting under his emergency powers authority, issued Executive Order No. 16 (EO 16) suspending a number of requirements relating to holding open public meetings of local government entities to allow those entities to conduct electronic meetings so that local government work can safely continue during the COVID-19 pandemic. EO 16 remains in effect until May 18, 2020. The State Comptroller’s Office has also issued guidance on holding electronic meetings. We have analyzed EO 16 and the Comptroller Office’s guidance and have drafted some recommendations on holding a public meeting consistent with EO 16 and the guidelines. A checklist of those recommendations is outlined below. For more detail, download our Best Practices for Conducting Meetings by Electronic Means.
Checklist: Electronic Public Meetings Best Practices
Notice of Electronic Meetings
Notice of electronic meetings should include the following:
- Time and date of the meeting.
- Instructions for how the public can access the meeting.
- Location of the meeting (even if not physically open to the public) or a statement that there will not be a physical location of the meeting.
- For a special meeting, also include the matters to be considered at the meeting.
If you gave prior notice of regular meetings (e.g., a notice published at the beginning of the year for all regular meetings) and now will hold the regular meeting electronically, we suggest you do the following:
- Disseminate a notice to that effect, including the information noted above.
- Give the updated notice in the same manner as you gave original notice.
- Post the notice of electronic meeting at the physical location where the meeting was to be held.
Preparing for and Conducting Electronic Meetings
Establish an agenda:
- It is recommended that you disseminate an agenda prior to an electronic meeting.
- If it is not feasible to publish agenda in local newspaper, consider posting it on the governing body’s website or another accessible website and include in the notice a reference to the website location where the agenda may be reviewed.
- We recommend that you note on the agenda that it may be modified at the meeting.
Select the platform for an electronic meeting:
- Video or an audio format can be used.
- Consider audio format if the necessary equipment for a video meeting is not readily available to all members of the governing body on an equal basis.
- Audio format may be easier to allow public input without unwanted disruptions.
- For either format, we suggest you allow for electronic participation by at least as many persons as would be able to physically attend your meetings if held in their normal location.
Conduct an electronic meeting:
- Per EO 16, the governing body should make a determination at the meeting that the electronic meeting is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of Tennesseans.
- Comptroller Office’s guidance encourages that all votes be undertaken by roll call.
- Members of the governing body should identify themselves prior to speaking.
- Require all participants in the meeting to mute their microphone unless speaking.
- Consider having a moderator who can receive emails and/or texts during the meeting from members of the governing body or the public if there are technological problems.
Public attendance and participation in an electronic meeting:
- EO 16 acknowledges that it may not be possible to allow the public to virtually attend an electronic meeting; however, we encourage you to do so if at all possible.
- If you intend to allow the public to provide input at the meeting, we recommend that the notice of the meeting require any public comment to be made in writing at a specified email address, sufficiently prior to the meeting to allow members of the governing body to review it.
- We recommend that all electronic meetings be recorded and posted for public convenience.
- If the public is not allowed to attend an electronic meeting, EO 16 requires that a clear audio or video recording of the meeting be posted within two business days of the meeting.