Open Meetings Frequently Asked Questions

What are the requirements of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act?

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act declares that the formation of public policy and public business must be transacted transparently and not in secret. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-101(a). To accomplish this goal, the Tennessee Open Meetings Act requires all meetings of a governing body to be open to the public and that a governing body provide adequate public notice of the meeting. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-44-102, 8-44-103.

What constitutes a meeting of a governing body?

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act defines a “meeting” as “the convening of a governing body of a public body for which a quorum is required to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision.” A “governing body” is “any public body [consisting] of two or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration.”  Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-102.

 

Meetings to make a recommendation to a single individual, such as a county mayor or dean of an educational institution, are not “meetings” covered by the Open Meetings Act. On-site inspections, chance meetings, and informational workshops are also not considered “meetings” under the Act, so long as there is no discussion or deliberation toward a decision that must be voted on by a quorum of a governing body. Advisory meetings with attorneys regarding anticipated or ongoing litigation are also exempt from the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, but actual decisions regarding litigation must be made at an open public meeting.

What is adequate public notice?

Adequate public notice is not defined in the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Tennessee courts have determined that adequate public notice is sufficient notice under the circumstances that would fairly inform the public of the meeting. Memphis Publ'g Co. v. City of Memphis, 513 S.W.2d 511, 513 (Tenn. 1974).

What must be included in the notice of a public meeting?

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act requires notice of the meeting itself but does not specifically require notice of the content of the meeting. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-103. Accordingly, a governing body is not required to post a meeting agenda as part of the public notice required under the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Lewis v. Cleveland Mun. Airport Auth., 289 S.W.3d 808 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009). Specially called meetings may require more content in the notice depending on the importance of the subject matter of the meeting.

Can I participate in a public meeting?

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act grants the public the right to attend and observe public meetings, but it does not grant the public the right to participate or speak at a public meeting. Souder v. Health Partners, Inc., 997 S.W.2d 140 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998). However, many governing bodies do allow the public to address the governing body for a set period of time at the beginning of public meetings.   

Can members of a governing body meet via electronic means?

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act generally only allows members of state governing bodies to participate by electronic means. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-108. Such authority does not generally exist for city and county governing bodies. Elected governing bodies of counties, cities, metropolitan governments and school boards may establish an internet forum as provided in Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-109. However, such internet forums cannot act as a substitute for decision making by a governing body at a meeting held in accordance with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.

What happens if there is a violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act?

Actions taken at a meeting in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, other than actions related to public indebtedness, are void.  Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-105. If a court finds that a violation occurred, the court’s findings regarding a violation must be filed with the meeting minutes and the governing body must file semi-annual reports while under the court’s jurisdiction for one year.