COVID-19 Open Meetings Act and Remote Meetings Tools

COVID-19 Open Meetings Act Changes

In the spring of 2020, the General Assembly  made changes to Ohio’s Open Meetings Act in response to the COVID-19 outbreak (HB 197). It is important to note that these changes are temporary, in effect until July 1, 2021 (previously December 1, 2020 but extended in HB 404). 

Generally, the bill allows public bodies to conduct meetings and hearings electronically during this state of emergency, provided certain stipulations are met:

  • Providing Notice: 
    • Public bodies must continue to provide notice to the public of their meetings. Public bodies must notify the public, the media that have requested notification, and parties required to be notified of a hearing at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting or hearing by reasonable methods, allowing a person to determine the time, location, and manner by which the meeting or hearing will be conducted. In the event of an emergency requiring immediate official action, the public body shall make these notifications immediately. 
  • Public Access: 
    • Public bodies must provide public access to any meeting or hearing that the public would otherwise be entitled to attend. The public body must ensure that the public can observe and hear the discussions of all members, whether they are participating in person or electronically. 

For hearings, public bodies must establish a means, through the use of electronic equipment widely available to the general public, to converse with witnesses and receive documentary testimony and physical evidence. 

Public bodies may meet by:

  • Teleconference;
  • Video conference; and
  • Other electronic technologies.

The public can be provided access through live-streaming, local radio, television, cable, or public access channels, call-in information for a teleconference, or by other similar electronic means. 

All actions taken through an electronic meeting during this time have the same effect as if they were conducted during an in-person meeting. 

Questions on the Open Meetings Act? Please consult your county prosecutor or legal counsel. 

To view this information in PDF format, please click here.

Remote Meetings Tools

As 2020 meetings and events continue to go virtual, it’s important that Ohio township officials and staff receive and understand the information and training needed to feel confident in the virtual world. Whether it be a monthly township meeting, a county meeting or simply a check-in with staff, participants will need to be comfortable with new technology. Once comfortable with said new tech, officials and staff will unlock a new world of engagement in a virtual setting. 

The OTA has created a short YouTube video detailing some of the tools and resources that can assist township officials and staff in becoming comfortable with virtual meetings and events. Check it out by clicking here, and look out for future YouTube resources from the OTA!

Please see changes to the Open Meetings Act under the state of emergency under its respective menu tab. Click here to view a helpful guide/chart from Guernsey County Prosecutor Joel Blue regarding public meetings during COVID-19. 

The OTA, in collaboration with OSU Extension - Community Development, put together a webinar on electronic meetings with a tutorial on using Zoom for townships that may need assistance getting started. Below are links to the webinar and materials presented in the video.

Additionally, the OTA and OSU Extension collaborated on a mock electronic township meeting. The video (linked below) features staff in various roles, such as trustees, a zoning inspector, a member of the media, and a fiscal officer, and may be a helpful guide for conducting your own electronic meeting. For best practices, refer to the link in the bulletpoints above. 

The following are resources and tools townships can use when holding remote meetings. The OTA does not endorse any specific program. 

  • Facebook Live (step-by-step overview here; Blueprint learning course here)

Though generally only one person can go live at one time on Facebook, with the third party tool Be.Live, multiple parties can stream to an official Facebook page. 

  • Facebook for Government, Politics and Advocacy (links to a page of resources on engaging with constituents and communities)
  • Zoom (the meeting could be held on Zoom and livestreamed via Facebook Live to an official Facebook page)
  • Workplace for Government (free for governments and emergency responders for the next 12 months; uses simple and secure tools)
  • YouTube (links to a guide to hosting virtual events on YouTube)

Teleconference and video conference options available to townships include FreeConferenceCall, GoToMeeting, Zoom, Facebook Live, GoogleMeets, Skype, Webex, AnyMeeting, JoinMe, and eztalks.

Townships may wish to reach out their local library, school district, ESC or board of county commissioners to discuss potentially partnering with or contracting for the use of IT services for this purpose.
*Note: This list is not exhaustive, and the OTA does not endorse any particular product.