Open & Public Meetings
The Open and Public Meetings Act is found at Title 52, Chapter 4 of the Utah Code. The Act covers most meetings of public boards, including city councils, county commissions, planning commissions, boards of adjustment, development review committees, etc.
The intent of the Open and Public Meetings Act is that state agencies and political subdivisions take actions and conduct deliberations openly.
The Act applies to most “Public Bodies,” which are defined as any administrative, advisory, executive, or legislative body of the state or its political subdivisions, and which are created by statute or ordinance. Public bodies must have at least two members. Certain committees of the Utah Legislature, political parties, and school community councils are specifically exempt.
“Meeting” means convening of a public body, with a quorum present for the purpose of discussing or acting upon any matter over which the body has jurisdiction or advisory power. Chance or social gatherings by members of the public body do not constitute a “meeting.”
A Meeting is Convened when a person who is authorized to do so calls together members of the public body to discuss a matter over which the body has authority.
A Quorum usually means a majority of the body’s members, but the number required for a quorum may also be established by statute or ordinance.
With some exceptions, almost all meetings of any public body are open to the public. This includes “work” or “study” meetings, where the body reviews matters in detail (often with staff), but does not take public comments. A site visit or tour by the public body is also a public meeting, and members of the public may attend.
While input from the public should be welcomed by any public body, not all meetings include public comments. Some agencies have “work” or “study” sessions which do not include public comments. In addition, a closed meeting or executive session would not take comments from the general public.
In order for a comment to be considered part of the official record of the meeting, a comment period must be opened, and the person recognized by the body.
The public body holding the meeting should give at least 24 hours’ notice of a meeting. The notice must identify the date, time, and place of the meeting, as well as an agenda of the topics to be discussed. In addition, if the body meets on a regular schedule, it should also provide a schedule of meetings at least once each year.
Written notice of a meeting, providing the required information, should be posted at the principal offices of the public body (or the body’s meeting place if there are no principal offices). Notice should also be posted on the Utah Public Notice Website , which is managed by the State Government. Finally, the notice should be provided to at least one newspaper circulated in the public body’s jurisdictional area, or provided to a local media correspondent. Public bodies are also encouraged to provide notice through other electronic means, such as through an official website.
Some types of meetings have additional requirements, such as meetings discussing proposed tax increases. Meetings of planning commissions and local legislative bodies (city councils and county commissions) considering zoning changes have specific notice requirements. See Utah Code Ann.§§ 10-9a-201 through-212 , and 17-27a-201 through-212 .
The agenda that is required to be included as part of a meeting’s notice should describe the topics to be discussed with “reasonable specificity,” so that the public may be informed about the topics being considered. Except in emergency circumstances, a public body may not take action unless the topic is listed as an agenda item in a public notice.
Yes. A public body may vote to hold an “Executive Session” which is closed to the public. The purpose of an executive session is to allow members of the public body to discuss sensitive matters privately. Executive sessions may only be held for one of the reasons listed in § 52-4-205 . The reasons include discussions of a person’s character or competence, pending or reasonably imminent litigation, purchase or sale of property, or deployment of security personnel or systems.
Two-thirds of the body’s members must vote to hold an executive session, and the general reason justifying the session must be stated at the time of the vote. A motion to hold an executive session (and the eventual vote) must be conducted in an open meeting of the body. An executive session may be held during the course of an otherwise public meeting, and the public meeting may continue after the executive session is concluded.
Sensitive matters may be discussed in an executive session, but no ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, contract, or appointment may be approved in a closed meetings. Those actions must be taken in a open meeting, even if the discussions are held privately.
Yes. A public body may convene without providing the required notice, to discuss matters of an emergency or urgent nature. The body must still attempt to give the “best notice practicable,” and attempt to contact all members of the body. A majority of the body’s members must approve conducting business at an emergency meeting.
Yes. Except for very limited exceptions, closed or executive sessions should be recorded, and minutes prepared. However, the minutes and recordings are considered protected records, and should not be released to the public. See Utah Code Ann. § 52-4-206 .
Yes. Public meetings may be held where members of the body participate by telephone or other electronic connections. See Utah Code § 52-4-207. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Utah law has undergone some changes in response to the increased use of electronic meetings. A public body must adopt a resolution, rule or ordinance governing the use of electronic meetings before convening and conducting an electronic meeting. These electronic meetings must typically provide a physical "anchor" location for members of the public to attend, unless doing so would present a substantial risk to the health or safety of those present, and are generally subject to the same notice requirements, with some added requirements to provide instructions allowing members of the public who are not physically present at the anchor location to attend remotely by electronic means.
If a public body does not comply with the Open & Public Meetings Act, including failure to provide required notice, any final actions taken may be voidable by a court. (They are not “automatically” voided). If a person is denied a right provided by the Act, a court may order that the public body comply.
A violation of the Open & Public Meetings Act is also a Class B Misdemeanor. However, criminal enforcement must be initiated by a county attorney or the Utah Attorney General.
Kearns-Tribune Corp., v. Salt Lake County Commission (2001) - resolving annexation disputes through boundary commission was quasi-judicial, and constituted pending litigation for purposes of closed meeting
Wallingford v. Moab (2020) - municipalities may not contract around public hearing requirements
SUWA v. San Juan County Comm'n (2021) / SUWA v. Kane County Comm'n (2021) - standing granted for an advocacy group that would have been interested in attending an illegally closed meeting had it been made public