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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT AND PUBLIC MEETINGS


THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT AND PUBLIC MEETINGS

LITTLE ROCK - Act 93 of 1967, commonly known as the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, maintains that it is "vital in a democratic society" for the public's business to be conducted in public, so that Arkansans can be aware of public-policy decisions and the performance of their government.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information law, one of the strongest in the nation, allows consumers to review state and municipal government records or observe the actions of governing bodies. Today, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel released this consumer alert to remind Arkansans about the FOIA and how it works for them.

"Arkansas is known nationally for its strong open records and open meetings law, and we should all be glad for that," McDaniel said. "A robust FOI law allows for all Arkansans to be active and informed citizens."

In previous consumer alerts, McDaniel discussed general provisions of the FOIA and how the FOIA applies to public records. Today, the Attorney General provided the following question-and-answer series regarding how the Act applies to public meetings:

• What meetings are covered by the FOIA? All meetings of the governing bodies of state and local government agencies, boards, and commissions and certain private organizations that receive public funds and conduct public affairs. A meeting of the governing body is covered even if it is held only for information-gathering purposes and no official action is taken.
• What is a governing body? A body that can make decisions. This includes subcommittees of the governing body or any other committees that have decision-making authority. But it generally does not include advisory bodies.

• Is a quorum required in order for it to be a "meeting" under the FOIA? No. The FOIA covers unofficial group meetings of less than a quorum if the governing body discusses matters on which action might be taken.
• Can a meeting be held by telephone conference? Yes, if proper procedures are followed, including giving the required notice and making phones available to the public and the press.
• Who is entitled to notice of meetings covered by the FOIA? Generally, notice of regular meetings must be provided to anyone who has asked to be notified. Notice of special meetings must be provided to members of the news media who have requested notice of such meetings.
• Must all covered meetings be held as open, public meetings? No. There are a few exceptions. The main exception involves meetings held to consider the employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining, or resignation of an individual officer or employee. The governing body has the discretion to hold such a meeting as a closed, so-called "executive session."
For more information, please contact Aaron Sadler at the Attorney General's Office at (501) 682-0517, or visit www.arkansasag.gov (go to the Opinions Division, FOIA link).

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