OPEN MEETINGS AND PUBLIC RECORDS
Mississippi’s Open Meetings Law
Under Mississippi law, all official meetings of any public body are to be open to the public unless declared an executive session. Notice of the meeting must be provided at least five (5) days in advance. The notice shall include the date, time, place and purpose for the meeting and shall identify all locations for the meeting available to the general public.
All the deliberative stages of the decision-making process that lead to “formation and determination of public policy” are required to be open to the public. This includes informal sessions with the members of the public body and staff. It is not permissible for three or more members of a public body to before a scheduled meeting to decide how they will vote on any issue.
Purely social functions are not covered by Mississippi’s open meetings law. The factors that are considered when deciding whether an activity is business or social include: (1) the type of activity that takes place at the function; (2) whether advance call or notice is given the members; (3) whether there is an agenda; (4) whether there will be claim for per diem; (5) whether there are travel expenses by the Board members; and, (6) any other pertinent factors.
Depending on the circumstances, an informal meeting of three or more board members and others constitutes a meeting under Mississippi’s open meetings law when there are to occur deliberative stages in the decision-making process that lead to the formation and determination of public policy.
A board cannot go into executive session in order to circumvent the Mississippi’s open meeting law. To go into executive session, the board must first close its meeting to discuss a need to go into executive session. This requires an announcement to the audience that the government body is going into executive session to discuss a specific subject. The board member asking that a meeting be closed to determine the need for an executive session is not required to give any reason for asking that the meeting be temporarily closed.
Upon a majority vote the meeting is temporarily closed. The board then determines the precise matter to be discussed and whether or not an executive session is appropriate. If by a three-fifths vote it is decided to go into executive session, the chairperson must re-open the meeting and announce publicly that the board is going into executive session, and state the reason for doing so. The reasons for going into executive session must be disclosed with sufficient specificity for the audience to know in fact that there is an actual, specific matter which is to be discussed and considered in executive session. The reason given must be more than some generalized term which does not tell the public nothing. Simply saying: “personnel matters,” or “litigation,” is not sufficient.
The board may then go into executive session to discuss the matter and, when concluded, must re-open the meeting. No other matter may be discussed at the executive session. This entire procedure and the vote on each stage must thereafter be recorded on the minutes.
Mississippi’s Public Records Act
In Mississippi, public records are generally available to the public. However, there are a number of exceptions which may preclude disclosure of certain records. Public records include books, records, papers, accounts, letters, maps, photographs, films, cards, tapes, recordings, and any other documentary material, regardless of form that are prepared, possessed or retained for use in the performance of any business of any public body. Providing reasonable access to all public records is an affirmative duty of each public body in Mississippi.
When a public official reviews written recommendations, comments and information provided by staff in the conduct, transaction or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function, the documents may be subject to disclosure to the general public.
The lawyers at Danks, Miller & Cory have represented client seeking full access to public meetings and records. We also have experience protecting our business clients from the disclosure of confidential information provided to public entities.
To discuss how one of our lawyers can help you with your specific matter, contact us by email or call our office 601-957-3101.