The State of North Carolina, Wake County, and the City of Raleigh have all declared States of Emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus. The County and the City of Raleigh have also adopted a Proclamation of Emergency Restrictions (also known as the “Stay-at-Home Order”), which is intended to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus by, among other things: requiring individuals to remain in their homes, except for certain essential activities, closing many businesses to the public, and prohibiting any gatherings which do not comply with its terms.
The various in-person meetings and hearings regularly held by the Raleigh City Council, as well as the multiple City appointed boards and commissions (collectively “City Boards”), involve the physical attendance of the Council or City Board members, who in turn encourage physical public participation and input during those meetings. It is not uncommon for meetings to have large attendance greater than would comply with the Executive Orders and currently recommended social distancing practices impossible. Continuing to hold in-person City meetings and hearings with attendance by the public is inconsistent with the purpose and intent of the State of Emergency Declarations and the Executive Orders and could exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.
Article 33C of the North Carolina General Statutes governs meetings of public bodies. The purpose of the Opens Meetings Law is to assure the public has notice and access to public meetings. The City takes its responsibilities under the Open Meetings Law very seriously and considers it vitally important, especially in times of crisis, that the public remains informed and heard, and that the City Council and City Boards continue to conduct important City business. The Open Meetings Law allows for electronic meetings, so long as there is a means for the public to listen and proper notice is given. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-318.13(a). Accordingly, in the wake of COVID-19, the City is converting all City Council and City Board meetings to a remote electronic format for the duration of the State of Emergency. Only meetings of the City Council, and other critical City Board meetings (to be determined), will be held. When they are held, they will adhere to a format that is consistent with the purpose and intent of the Open Meetings Law, will protect the applicable due process rights of affected individuals, and will further the important public purpose of containing the spread of COVID-19.