"Our scheduled meeting will be held remotely."
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has adopted guidelines governing the conduct of remote meetings during the State of Emergency. To view the complete emergency adoption of remote meeting protocol for local public bodies posted on the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs go to nj.gov/dca/.
There are two main points in the guidelines on which municipalities should be especially vigilent.
First, adequate notice.
If a meeting will be held remotely a notice must be posted on the public body’s website at least 48 hours prior to the start of the meeting. Posting a notice on social media is acceptable only if there is no website, so a Facebook post will not count as an official notice for your municipality. A legal notice published in the official newspaper of the municipality is part of compliance, but this is in addition to the website posting.
Second, access to documents.
The public must be able to access any documents and/or visual presentations that are presented/referred to at a remote meeting. These documents should also be available to the public online. For the tech-savvy committee, the document discussed can also be presented during the meeting.
What the repercussions will be for failing to comply, is not known at the time of this writing. It should be noted that a municipality is being sued because action was taken at a virtual meeting. So, as the old saying goes, it is better to be safe than sorry. Follow the guidelines as best you can.
Here are some main points in the guidelines:
- A meeting can be held remotely "if the emergency reasonably prevents a local public body from conducting public business at a physical location with members of the public present."
- Adequate 48-hour notice should be posted on the website of the public body holding the meeting. No website, notice should be published on social media.
- Communications technology used to access the meeting must be free to the public.
- Participant capacity "shall not be limited to fewer than 50 participants"
- A dial-in phone line must be provided to allow public participation. Audio and video links must be provided.
- The public must be able to see any documents or visual presentations at the meeting. Documents should also be available via a link on the meeting notice.
- Public comment should be made through audio, video or email. Public comments should be read aloud at the meeting.
- Members of public who disrupt a meeting can be muted.
While these are guidelines for a remote public meeting, they do not specify guidelines for the virtual meeting itself. Tips on how to make your public meeting a success for everyone will be in the next business blog.