An administrative agency is an official governmental body with authority to direct and supervise implementation of specific statutes. Administrative agencies are created by the U.S. constitution, U.S. Congress, state legislatures, and local lawmaking bodies.
An administrative agency’s meeting comprises of discussions by two or more people about a predetermined topic in a formal setting. All agency meetings have to be public and any individual can attend the meetings as long as they are not exempted by any statute. In participatory democratic process, open meeting laws ensure public access to administrative policy. Open meeting laws help in promoting public’s understanding of government operations by eliminating secrecy surrounding government’s public policy.
Generally, the quorum of an agency meeting is satisfied when a simple majority of administrative agency members are present. However, some statutes provide the minimum number of members to be present in a meeting to make it valid. Review by the full body of members is not a prerequisite to validity of a decision.[i]
In case a member of an administrative agency is not present due to death, resignation, ineligibility, failure to qualify, abstention, or incapacity, validity of decisions taken in that agency meeting is not affected if a majority of the agency’s members are present to constitute a quorum. Ex officio members are also counted in determining a quorum. When a person is substituted in a meeting because a member is absent or disqualified, the substituted member can also vote in the meeting for constituting a quorum. A disqualified member cannot form part of a quorum. A member who has recused voluntarily is also not counted to form a quorum.
Some states provide that notice is to be provided to members for open meetings.[ii] Administrative agencies are to give public notice of its regular meetings before the meetings are held. An agency should also give public notices of each special meeting, and also of rescheduled meetings. However, public notice is not required for emergency meetings. Administrative agencies are supposed to publish copies of notices in the newspaper to invite public participation in open meetings.
Agency meetings can also be executive sessions when the meetings are convened to discuss personal matters or matters that can prejudice the reputation or character of a person.[iii] Matters involving employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of performance, promotion or disciplining of any specific public officer or employee also can be discussed in such private sessions. Meetings between attorney and agency to discuss litigation methods in a case can also be held in private because an open meeting might adversely affect the case.
Administrative agencies should officially record proceedings of all meetings in the form of minutes. Other agency documents related to management of facilities, finances, and personnel agreements, contracts, meetings, and documents related to legal actions can be complied as administrative records. Administrative agencies also create reports of projects and research related to public programs. All these records are accessible to the public unless they fall under the head of privileged or confidential documents.
[i] Ho Chong Tsao v. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 538 F.2d 667 (5th Cir. 1976)
[ii] Forehand v. United States, 23 Ct. Cl. 477 (Ct. Cl. 1888)
[iii] Meyer v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Neb., 1 Neb. App. 893 (Neb. Ct. App. 1993)