November 24, 2014
Open Meetings Act reminder for committees, boards of directors
Kansas State University — including its committees, subcommittees and controlled corporations — must comply with the Kansas Open Meetings Act, KOMA. The act requires that meetings of these bodies be open to the general public and that notice of the time, place and date of meetings be provided to anyone requesting notice. These are different from general departmental or staff meetings, which are not subject to the act.
A "meeting" occurs when the majority of a body communicates — through any medium — for the purpose of discussing the body's business or affairs. A meeting can occur in person, by telephone, through email or on a website. Emails and password-protected websites are necessary and common for much of the university's business, but they can lead to problems for groups subject to the act because their meetings must be open and accessible to the public.
A "serial meeting" also can occur through a series of different communications if they relate to a matter that would require binding action by the body. For example, if two board members have discussions with less than a majority of the board, but subsequently get together and compare the viewpoints or votes of a majority of the board, then a serial meeting has occurred.
Similarly, a committee of a university senate or the board of directors of a university-controlled corporation is having meetings if it conducts business via group email or a series of individual emails — including a listserv — or website posts.
Some topics, such as legal advice, personnel matters or matters affecting individual students can be discussed outside of the public eye, but only after properly entering an "executive session." Votes cannot be taken in executive session, but must take place in an open meeting. It is possible to develop a consensus in executive session, but that consensus cannot derive from any kind of vote, including a "shows of hands."
Because many Kansas Open Meetings Act issues are fact-dependent, such as whether Kansas Open Meetings Act applies to a particular group, whether a "meeting" might occur, or whether a topic can be handled in executive session, we encourage you to contact the Office of General Counsel with any questions about specific situations.