States have complex levels of authority over municipalities, but that doesn't stop cities from crafting transparency reforms that lead locally and could impact state operations, too.
This week, Atlanta proved to be a great example of such leadership. The city council unanimously approved an amendment to the open meetings ordinance making it stronger than the language of Georgia's state law.
The events leading up to this change are explained in this story by Matthew Charles Cardinale of Atlanta Progressive News. Cardinale helped draft and push for the legislation after filing a lawsuit challenging closed-door sessions of city council committee meetings. Cardinale argued that there was case law, decided by the Court of Appeals of Georgia, supporting his position that even some meetings without a quorum of members have to be open to the public. State law only explicitly states that meetings with a quorum have to be open.
Atlanta's new amendment to its open meetings law now codifies the case law Cardinale cited, putting the language a step ahead of the state's open meetings law. It is better to have a law itself be clear than to rely on case law, Cardinale noted.
The city's amended language also specifies that committee briefings, public hearings, and work sessions must be open, whether or not there is a quorum. Though there was a record of committee chairs opening up their public hearings and work sessions before this amendment, briefings were sometimes kept closed. The informal policy of having public hearings and work sessions open to the public was also in danger of being changed with every influx of new council members and new committee chairs. By putting this practice into law, and expanding it to include briefings, Atlanta has set a standard that will withstand any political changes.
The amended ordinance has not yet been signed by the mayor, but city council's unanimous support of the change bodes well. This move should inspire Georgia to also codify the common-sense case law that meetings of public bodies, with or without a quorum, should be open to the public.
Thanks to Matthew Charles Cardinale for contributing information to this post.
Photo by Flickr user mystuart.