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Hybrid Meetings and Technical Challenges

Perhaps your boards and committees are meeting again in person, but you would like to continue to offer the public an online link to participate remotely. How is your meeting affected if there is technical interference with the online attendees? Is it a violation of the Open Meeting Law to continue the meeting if the online access fails?

This question arose when the Zoom link for a Marblehead Board of Health meeting failed. It is the law that board members who meet remotely or meet in a location that does not allow public access must provide “adequate, alternative access” in real time to the meeting. However, if the board meets in person at a location at which the public can be accommodated, remote access is not required. The Board of Health members met in person but provided a Zoom link, telephone numbers for dial in attendance, and a Webinar ID for the public to attend remotely. Two members of the public claimed a violation of the Open Meeting Law because the Zoom link didn’t work. The Division of Open Government, in OML 2023-52, concluded that there was no violation since the public was able to attend in person. The decision noted, though, that the conclusion would have been different if the public could only attend remotely and the remote access was lost. The decision gave no weight to the fact that there were more methods to remotely access the meeting than just Zoom, so there is no reason to conclude that more than one method of remote access must be offered to the public.

The Board of Health agenda contained a useful disclaimer. “Members of the public are welcome to attend this in-person at [Meeting Address] or by the remote zoom connection provided. Please note that the in-person meeting will not be suspended or terminated if technological problems interrupt the remote connection.” You may want to consider including a form of it on your posted agendas for meetings that offer remote access when the board members meet in person.

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