Local, state and federal government agencies conduct frequent meetings. The law requires that many of these meetings be open to the public. You can learn when public meetings will be held through public notices. Read more about how to find and receive public notices from government agencies in Part 1D.
E. Public Meetings
The Sunshine Law defines a public meeting as “any meeting of a public governmental body subject to sections 610.010 to 610.030 at which any public business is discussed, decided, or public policy formulated.”
Missouri requires public notice at least 24 hours before the meeting of a public body; the notice must include the date, time, place, and tentative agenda for the meeting. Public meetings (including those conducted online or over the phone) should be held at reasonable hours in spaces that can accommodate disabilities and the number of expected attendees. While members of the public must be allowed to attend open meetings, the Sunshine Law does not require that members of the public are allowed to speak at these meetings. Attendees may record audio and video according to guidelines set by the public governmental body hosting the meeting. Under the Sunshine Law, citizens may submit a records request for meeting minutes and other documentation of public meetings.
A meeting must be open to the public unless it meets criteria listed in Section 610.021, RSMo. that direct the meetings, records, and votes to be closed. In other words, a public governmental body is almost never required to close a meeting. Meetings may not be closed unless the majority of the public governmental body conducting the meeting agrees to do so. If any member of a public governmental body believes the motion to close the meeting is unlawful, this objection should be recorded in the minutes. A public governmental body may be authorized to close a meeting if it involves litigation, confidential and/or privileged communication with attorneys; lease, purchase or sale of property by a public governmental agency; or hiring, discipline and/or promotion of employees. See Section 610.021, RSMo for the complete list of closure authorization criteria. Meetings should only be closed to the extent necessary for the specific closure reason. Therefore, meetings may be partially-closed and include open sessions, as well. Note that the unauthorized recording of any closed meeting or session is considered a misdemeanor. If a meeting is closed, a notice must still be given that includes the date, time, and place of the meeting, and the specific reason in Section 610.021, RSMo., that allows for closing the meeting. The notice is not required to include a tentative agenda.
For meetings by federal agencies you’ll want to look at the Government in the Sunshine Act.
At the federal level, the “Government in the Sunshine” Act is the piece of federal legislation that governs public access to meetings of federal agencies. The Government in the Sunshine Act only applies to agencies headed by a body composed of two or more individuals – the majority of whom must be appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) are exempt because each has a single head: the Administrator and the Secretary, respectively. However, the Government in the Sunshine Act applies to agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which are headed by commissions.
Regardless of the type of agency, the Government in the Sunshine Act also limits the meetings available to the public by distinguishing between the topics to be discussed and the people in attendance. Meetings must be made open to the public when there are enough members in attendance to take action on behalf of the agency. Like the Sunshine Law for Missouri, there are also exemptions to the Government in the Sunshine Act that allow for meetings or portions of meetings to be closed to the public if an agency may disclose or discuss matters of national defense or foreign policy; privileged and/or confidential financial information; or person(s) accused of a crim. See 5 U.S.C. § 552b. (c) for a complete list of exemptions. The General Counsel or chief legal officer of an agency must publicly certify each meeting closure and specify the relevant exemptive provision, to be maintained by the agency along with the closed meeting’s minutes. Meeting minutes and transcripts should be made publicly available unless they contain information which qualifies the meeting for closure.
Public notice must be given at least one week prior to both open and closed agency meetings. Notice should include the time, place, and subject matter of the meeting, and if the meeting will be open or closed to the public. You can find notices of federal government meetings that are open to the public in the Federal Register. Refer to Part 1 to learn about subscribing to the Federal Register.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) is another federal law regarding open access to government meetings. Specifically, FACA provides for public access and public notice in the Federal Register to most meetings of committees that advise federal agencies. For these advisory committees, FACA also requires that the minutes, records, and reports be made publically available.