Saturday, February 11, 2006

Can a blog violate open meetings laws?

Every now and then, blogging becomes itself an issue. And so we see what appears to be an obscure story about public servants who maintain blogs (which a number of them do). According to this story, from a small town in Vermont,

NORTH ADAMS — Concerns about how the state's open meeting law applies to such things as posting on Web logs and multiple councilors appearing on cable access programs has prompted City Councilor Clark H. Billings to present a letter to the council asking for the city solicitor's opinion....

However, there has yet to be a ruling on public forums such as television shows and Web logs.

"I got two different opinions at the conference," Billings said. "I think there is potential for this to be interpreted a half dozen ways."

Billings also is questioning how the law applies to such public forums as candidate nights.

"They are public, but they're (sic) not posted," he said. "They also have the potential to have a quorum of sitting councilors present. I can't think of an election year when five councilors aren't running for re-election. They also have the potential for questions to be asked about items before the council. Councilors hear what others are thinking and can make decisions based on each others responses."

The issue then is whether a public official who maintains a weblog is violating the open meetings act because (s)he may be influenced by opinions posted on the blog but knowledge that the blog exists or how to access it may not be in the public domain.

I understand the concern, and I've been an advocate for completely open meetings for years. My own view though is that as blogging becomes more and more common, it will be less noteworthy for public officials to maintain a blog, and as such it will be expected that if a public official has a blog, (s)he will have to list it under 'contact information' on a website or otherwise advertise its existence and web address.


Lily said...

I guess as technology changes and communication evolves, the law will need to keep up. Transparency issue? Access?

shayna said...

Happy Early
Valentine's Day

I know a few people that are kind of high up that have blogs but remain anonyomous... I am also open to the whole open meetings

Eli Blake said...

Clearly sooner or later someone will have to write some legislation that deals with this, or else it is likely to be decided in the courts.

Even an anonymous public servant could be providing unequal access to people who they may know, even if those people don't know who they are writing to. And if someone figures it out/is told, then clearly that person has an 'inside' edge for making their case to the public servant.