North Carolina state law specifically authorizes virtual meetings, like the one the Greensboro City Council has scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 14.
North Carolina General Statute 143-318.13 (a) states “Electronic Meetings. – If a public body holds an official meeting by use of conference telephone or other electronic means, it shall provide a location and means whereby members of the public may listen to the meeting and the notice of the meeting required by this Article shall specify that location. A fee of up to twenty-five dollars ($25.00) may be charged each such listener to defray in part the cost of providing the necessary location and equipment.”
The idea that it would cost $25 to view the meeting is clearly outdated, as is calling it an “electronic meeting.” There will be no charge for those who choose to watch the meeting.
The public comment period is not so clear cut in the statute, but an advisory letter from the North Carolina attorney general’s office on the topic, which because of the COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people is an issue in local governments across North Carolina, states, “whatever is not explicitly addressed in the statutes should be met with reasonableness to allow transparency into the local governing process. That is to say that local government must continue to run, people have been ordered to not convene in groups larger than ten, and reasonableness must prevail in a time like this. Again, these are unprecedented times and I feel confidence a court will view efforts to remain transparent through a lens of reasonableness, which can be met through electronic meetings.”
If the test is “reasonableness,” it would appear that the Greensboro City Council’s attempt to meet the public comment requirement by having public comments collected prior to the meeting and summarized during the virtual meeting would meet that standard.
In a previous article, it was stated that comments had to be submitted by close of business on Monday, April 13, and during the COVID-19 crisis close of business at city hall was 3 p.m. has since been clarified. The latest notice from the city states that comments will be accepted for the Tuesday, April 14 meeting up to 5 p.m. on Monday, April 13.