With the effective date of recent amendments to Pennsylvania’s open meetings law, commonly known as the Sunshine Act, rapidly approaching on August 29, 2021, Pennsylvania public agencies, including but not limited to School Boards, Counties, Townships, Boroughs, Cities, and the Governing Bodies of community colleges, must be prepared to ensure they are in compliance with Act 65’s changes.
As background, on June 30, 2021, Governor Wolf signed into law as Act 65 of 2021 Senate Bill 554, which amends the Sunshine Act to mandate that a public agency’s agenda include all issues where a deliberation is expected, even if there is no anticipated vote on the issue. Furthermore, Act 65 requires that this agenda must be available to the public at least 24 hours prior to the public meeting, with few exceptions.
Publication of the Agenda
The new amendments are clear about the methods and timing for posting the public agency’s agenda. If the public agency has a publicly accessible internet website, the agenda must be posted on that website at least 24 hours prior to the public meeting to ensure compliance with these new amendments. In addition to the website, the public agency must post a copy of the agenda at the location of the meeting and the principal office of the public agency. Finally, the public agency must make available a copy of the agenda to any individuals attending the public meeting.
Content of the Agenda
In addition to the requirements for the publication of the agenda, the new amendments are specific as to the content of the agenda. The agenda must include a listing of each matter of the public agency business that will be or may be the subject of deliberation or official action at the public meeting. These new amendments will not apply to a conference, working session or executive session of the public agency.
The new amendments allow for certain exceptions to the requirements for notice and content, but in very limited circumstances. One such exception is that a public agency may take official action at a public meeting (either a regularly scheduled meeting or emergency meeting) if the issue involves a clear and present danger to life or property even if public notice was not given for that meeting.
In addition, a public agency may take official action that is not listed on the agenda if (a) the issue arises (or is brought to the attention of the public agency) within the 24-hour period prior to the meeting; (b) the matter is de minimis and does not involve the expenditure of funds or entering into a contract by the public agency; or (c) if during the public meeting, a taxpayer or resident brings an issue before the public agency that is not listed on the agenda. If the issue is brought by a taxpayer or resident, the public agency may either further research the issue for inclusion on a future agenda or, if de minimis, the public agency may take official action.
In addition, a public agency may add a matter to the agenda upon the majority vote of the members of the public agency’s governing body that are present and voting during the public meeting. Upon the inclusion of a new matter, the amended agenda must be posted on the public agency’s website and at the public agency’s principal office location no later than the first business day following the public meeting in which the agenda was amended.
As the August 29, 2021 effective date of Act 65 approaches, it is critical for public agencies to review current policies and procedures for publishing and determining the content of their agendas for public meetings to ensure compliance with the new amendments to the Sunshine Act. Please contact me if you have questions about your agency’s compliance with the new requirements.