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Arizona attorney general approves online school board meetings

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  1. Freedom of Information
Arizona's attorney general declared in a legal opinion Monday that it would not violate state open-government laws for some school board…

Arizona’s attorney general declared in a legal opinion Monday that it would not violate state open-government laws for some school board meetings to be held online. 

Camp Verde Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Van Handel sought an opinion from Attorney General Terry Goddard on whether a computer program allowing Web users to watch in real time as school board officials revise public documents would fall within the scope of the law, The Arizona Republic reported.   

Viewers and members of the public would be able to comment by e-mail.  

This approach has not been widely used by state governments — The Republic reported that only Florida and Kansas have considered the viability of online government meetings. Missouri’s Sunshine Law was expanded in 2004 to include electronic records and online meetings.

Goddard’s opinion said that if certain conditions were in place, such as proper notice given to the public, free computers made available at libraries and final approval of the documents reached only at traditional public meetings, the online program would be lawful.  

Because this approach is so new, there could be both positive and negative effects on government transparency — even with the potentially interactive nature of an online program, said Patrice McDermott, director of Openthegovernment.org.  

"There are still concerns because it’s very different to hold a meeting online even in this era," McDermott said.  "[Internet] access is not ubiquitous, and you might be requiring someone to go to a non-meeting space in order to participate . . .That’s not ideal, but then, having public meetings at an inconvenient location in the middle of the day is not very conducive to public participation, either."  

Ensuring the online meetings were as open as traditional public meetings would depend on the actual level of interactivity, McDermott said, and whether all e-mail correspondence with the public was saved and kept as part of the formal record of the meeting.