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Conducting Effective Public Meetings

Introduction

Meetings are the means by which a person or group can exercise choice and affect outcomes. Generally, there are two different types of meetings that a local government will focus on. One general type is decision or policy-making meetings. Another is information-sharing meetings, which are used either to get public comments or as brainstorming work sessions. The purpose of meetings is to hear from all concerned parties and ensure that all opinions are considered in the decision-making process.

Narrative

Under state law, there are certain rules that a local government must follow for conducting meetings; however, aside from these rules, there are also standards that help to ensure that meetings are effective.

Here are some basic rules for ensuring an effective meeting:

  • have an agenda and stick to it;
  • do not add controversial issues to the agenda at the last minute;
  • distribute materials ahead of time so participants can come to the meeting informed;
  • condense information as much as possible so participants can get the information quickly;
  • protect the rights of all parties to be heard by ensuring there is uninterrupted time for them to speak;
  • ensure everyone understands their stake in the issue;
  • use flip charts or a whiteboard to make notes on key ideas;
  • confirm that any message or ideas being conveyed by attendees is clearly understood;
  • identify actions that need to be taken on matters raised; and
  • prepare an official written record of the meeting.

Parliamentary procedure is a formal set of rules  for conducting a meeting of an organized group. The purpose of parliamentary procedure is to:

  • enable the group to transact business with speed and efficiency;
  • protect the rights of each individual to be heard at the meeting;
  • assure that the will of the majority is carried out;
  • ensure full and free debate of each item of business brought before the organization; and
  • preserve a spirit of harmony within the group.
Frequently Asked Questions

Why does a governing body need a meeting procedure?

The practical reasons for having a meeting procedure in place are that it eliminates chaos and lessens the possibility that the decision-making process will be unreliable (arbitrary and capricious).

An established procedure also helps to ensure that all legal requirements an organization's meetings are subject to are indeed followed. Municipalities' policy-making bodies are required by law to:

  • hold regular meetings on an established schedule (usually monthly);
  • establish a quorum for meetings and take action by majority vote;
  • have their members vote on every question, unless they are disqualified from voting;
  • have conflicts of interest declared;
  • maintain a journal of official proceedings;
  • provide reasonable opportunity for the public to be heard; and
  • hear and evaluate public testimony.

Generally, the preferred style of parliamentary procedure is "Robert's Rules of Order." However, Roberts Rules can sometimes be confusing because of the specialized language used to describe meetings process and the level of detail it presents. Small local governments can instead conduct business by incorporating only a limited part of Roberts Rules, or any other common standards of parliamentary procedure, in their official procedures and incorporating the rest of the process by reference.

Work sessions meetings, but are less formal than regular meetings or public hearings.  Governing bodies typically don't follow parliamentary procedures during work sessions. 

What are the minimum mandatory requirements of a local government for conducting meetings?

Under state law (AS 29.20.160 and AS 44.62.310-.312), and as mentioned above, a municipality must:

  • hold a regular monthly meeting, unless otherwise provided by ordinance;
  • provide reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard;
  • establish a quorum to have a meeting;
  • take action by majority vote of the governing body; and
  • keep a journal of official proceedings.

Who enforces the rules?

Under state law, a local governing body elects a presiding officer and a deputy presiding officer from among its members. For a borough that has adopted the manager form of government and for cities, the mayor is the presiding officer. Essentially, the presiding officer enforces the rules of the meeting and, when there is a question of procedure, asks the group's parliamentary advisor for assistance. 

According to AS 29.20.380(10), a municipality's clerk acts as the parliamentary advisor for its governing body. The clerk would research the question asked by the presiding officer and propose a resolution, which the presiding officer rules on. Members of the public also enforce the rules by questioning whenever something occurs that doesn't seem to follow the rules. The last resort for enforcement is a lawsuit.

Local Government Specialists with the Division of Community and Regional Affairs provide training on conducting effective meetings and are available to answer questions of procedure. The Alaska Municipal League (AML) also provides training on these topics.

What are the duties of the "Meeting Chair" or "Presiding Officer" at a public meeting?

The duties of the presiding officer are to organize and handle any pre-meeting needs, direct the flow of the meeting, ensure order, and ensure follow-up.

Before the meeting, the presiding officer should ensure that:

  • the agenda is prepared;
  • adequate public notice has been given;
  • meeting packets have been delivered to members of the policy-making body ahead of time so they are informed of the issues and ready to conduct business;
  • the meeting place is suitable and appropriate for the meeting; and
  • meeting materials (writing materials, document copies, etc.) are available for everyone present.

During the meeting, the presiding officer should ensure that:

  • he/she knows the procedural rules and follows them;
  • he/she keeps control of the meeting and establishes order when others stray from the rules;
  • either a clear decision is made on an issue or it is officially set aside to be addressed at another time;
  • action items are clearly identified;
  • assignments are made for doing completing the action items; and that
  • there is an official written record of the meeting being prepared.

An important point to keep in mind is that it is not the responsibility of the presiding officer to make policy decisions on their own. All members of the body need to be involved in the decision-making process.

What are the duties of the governing body at a public meeting?

  • Know the rules.
  • Attend the meeting and be prepared to conduct business when you get there.
  • Read through and understand any materials provided in the meeting packet before the meeting.
  • Participate in debate.
  • Be respectful of other members and the chair.

What are some suggestions for ensuring decisions made at the meeting are followed up?

Create an action/implementation plan and assign people responsibility for completing tasks. The best-run meeting is not of much use if decisions made are never acted on.

Additional Resources

Publications

Recommended web site search topics:

  • Alaska Municipal League
  • Alaska Open Meetings Act
  • Robert's Rules of Order
  • Parliamentary Procedure
Applicable Laws and Regulations

Alaska Statutes

  • AS 29.20.010 Conflict of interest.
  • AS 29.20.160 Procedures of governing bodies.
  • AS 29.20.250 Powers and duties of mayor.
  • AS 29.20.300-.320 Boards and commissions.
  • AS 29.20.380 Municipal clerk.
  • AS 44.62.310 Government meetings public.
  • AS 44.62.312 State policy regarding meetings.
Revised 12/24/2014