What is the Arizona Open Meeting Law

The Arizona Open Meeting Law dictates what responsibilities a political subdivision, such as a school district, has to inform the public when its governing body (in the case of a school district a Governing Board) decides to take action.  Those responsibilities include, but are not limited to, providing the public with enough information concerning the proposed action so that any stranger who arrived in the jurisdiction the morning of the meeting would be able to tell exactly what it was that the Governing Board was contemplating doing.  This article seeks to explore some of the “do’s and don’ts” of drafting Governing Board meeting agenda language in order to satisfy the State of Arizona Open Meeting Law.

To begin with, the State of Arizona Open Meeting Law is found in Arizona Revised Statues (“A.R.S.”) §38-431 through A.R.S. §38-431.09.  The requirement that a school district Governing Board post a Governing Board meeting agenda is found in A.R.S. §38-431.02(G) which states,

“Notice required under this section shall include an agenda of the matters to be discussed or decided at the meeting or information on how the public may obtain a copy of such an agenda.“

In addition to requiring an agenda, which is also required to be posted no less than twenty-four (24) hours prior to the start time of the Governing Board meeting,  A.R.S. §38-431.02(H) requires that all school district Governing Board meeting agendas “list the specific matters to be discussed, considered or decided at the meeting.”  What this means is that each school district Governing Board meeting agenda must accurately, and thoroughly, describe exactly what the purpose of the agenda item is and what action is contemplated by the Governing Board.

A good source of guidance on the subject of the State of Arizona Open Meeting Law and its application to school district Governing Boards is found in the Arizona Attorney General Agency Handbook (the “AG Handbook”) Chapter 7.  The AG Handbook, in Section 7.7.2, specifically states that the requirement in A.R.S. §38-431.02(H) for a specific list of matters to be discussed, considered or decided at a school district Governing Board meeting does not permit the use of general terms such as “personnel,” “new business,” “old business,” or “other matters.”  This prohibition does not mean that these terms cannot be used as the title of a section of a school district Governing Board meeting agenda, but it should be noted that if these terms are used to identify sections of the agenda that the items listed underneath the heading must be more specific in order to satisfy the Arizona Open Meeting Law.

When drafting a school district Governing Board meeting agenda item there are three (3) main considerations you want to make sure you address; what is being presented to the Governing Board for consideration, what is the scope of the decision the Governing Board is being asked to make, and what is the potential impact upon the school district.

There are many different types of items that a school district Governing Board needs to address.  These items can range from simple Superintendent reports, intergovernmental agreements, student discipline, employee discipline, procurement matters, or other types of services or purchasing contracts.  The important consideration is making sure that the agenda item actually states what it is that is up for Governing Board consideration.

For example, if the school district is considering the purchase of new athletic equipment then simply writing the agenda item as “Athletic Equipment” under the heading of “Consent Agenda” is not sufficient to satisfy the State of Arizona Open Meeting Law.  This description does not indicate what is to be presented to the Governing Board for consideration, does not give the public any idea of the scope of the decision (is the district buying something, accepting a donation?), and does not give any indication of the potential impact upon the school district.

The proper way to draft this agenda item could read something similar to,

“Discussion And Possible Governing Board Action Regarding The Approval Of The District’s Proposed Purchase Of New Football Equipment From ABC Athletic Incorporated For Eight Thousand Dollars ($8000.00).”

This item clearly specifies what action is being contemplated by the Governing Board (a purchase of equipment from ABC Athletic Incorporated), the scope of the proposed purchase (equipment for the football program), and the potential impact on the school district (the amount of $8000.00).

It is also important to note that if the school district Governing Board intends to enter into an executive session pursuant to an exemption found in  A.R.S. §38-431.03, that the Governing Board agenda meeting item must clearly indicate than an executive session is contemplated and the specific exemption which authorizes it.  The language indicating that an executive session is contemplated should not be drafted as to defeat the purpose of the executive session; in other words the agenda item should not disclose that which the Governing Board seeks to keep confidential.

Using the above athletic equipment purchase example from above, if the Governing Board wanted to enter into an executive session for legal advice on that item, the agenda item could read,

“Discussion And Possible Governing Board Action Regarding The Approval Of The District’s Proposed Purchase Of New Football Equipment From ABC Athletic Incorporated For Eight Thousand Dollars ($8000.00).  The Governing Board May Vote To Convene In Executive Session, Which Will Not Be Open To The Public, Regarding This Item Pursuant to A.R.S. §38-431.03(A)(3) For Legal Advice From The District’s Attorney(s).  The District’s Attorney(s) May Appear Telephonically.”

This additional language identifies which executive session exemption the Governing Board is seeking to use to enter into the executive session, which item the executive session is intended to be in reference to, and the agenda item does not reveal any information the Governing Board intended to keep confidential.

In summation, a school district Governing Board meeting agenda item must be drafted to clearly indicate to the public what is being discussed, what the scope of the action to be considered by the Governing Board is, and a general idea of what the impact upon the school district will be.   Drafting Governing Board meeting agenda items is an art that by necessity will change depending on the specifics of each and every item presented for consideration by the Governing Board.  It is strongly recommended that before posting a Governing Board meeting agenda item that school district administrators seek guidance from the school district’s legal counsel concerning whether or not the proposed language of the agenda item is specific enough to satisfy the State of Arizona Open Meeting Law.

 

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding The Arizona Open Meeting Law, or any other estate planning matters, please feel free to contact at  480.461.5300, log on to udallshumway.com,  or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.