Milestone: D.C. Open Gov’t Office Explains How It Will Handle Complaints About Violations of the Open Meetings Act — UPDATED: Final rule published 12/26/14
dcogcadmin | October 31, 2014
Washington, DC, Oct. 31, 2014 — Got a problem finding information on meetings of public bodies in D.C.? There’s a law on your side, the Open Meetings Act, and if you think a public body hasn’t lived up to its legal obligations, there will soon be a process for filing a complaint and getting the Office of Open Government to take a look and ask for corrective action if you’re right.
The Office has had authority to handle complaints since its establishment (see one opinion here) but today published proposed general rules so the public may know its Open Meetings complaint process.
Complaints need to be submitted within 60 days of the problem, and the Office’s initial response is due within 14 work days. The proposed rule discusses the steps of initial review, conciliation or informal resolution, investigation and final action including issuance of an advisory opinion (due no more than 30 days after the last review step).
Those advisory opinions, according to the draft rule, are “binding” — suggesting a public body called on the carpet had better take some corrective action. The Office also has authority to go to court for enforcement by the court. That step is not addressed in these rules except that it will address a public body that has “willfully disregarded” the rules.
And the public doesn’t need to wait until the public body makes a mistake about its meetings — the Office will take a “prospective” complaint that a public body appears likely to take a future action that will violate the Open Meetings Act. The rule offers in such cases that the Office will swing into action with “reasonable steps to reach prompt conclusions.”
A public body that wants a review of its obligations under the act can also ask the Office for an advisory opinion.
The rule also requires the Office to train members and staff of public bodies so they know the law.
Comments from the public will be accepted on the proposed rules until November 29, 2014.
UPDATE: The rule is now in effect. It appeared in final form in the D.C. Register, December 26, 2014, Vol. 61, No. 53. p. 013143. Notice 5242964.