June 5, 2008
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you asked whether there are “any regulations about having alcohol served and/or consumed at a public meeting.” Further, if a meeting is held “in a building with a liquor license that allows alcohol”, you asked whether “officers and the public at a public meeting [may] have alcohol at the meeting during session.”
In this regard, there is nothing in the Open Meetings Law or any other law of which I am aware that deals with the consumption of alcohol during an open meeting of a public body held in accordance with that statute. However, as a general matter, a public body has the authority to adopt reasonable rules to govern its own proceedings. Therefore, if a public body wants to prohibit the consumption of alcohol during its meetings, I believe that it would have the authority to do so as a means of ensuring decorum and the avoidance of disruption.
Since you referred to a meeting that might be held in a facility that is licensed to serve liquor, I note that it has been advised that it may be unreasonable and, therefore, contrary to law, for a public body to conduct a meeting in a restaurant, for example. Although the Open Meetings Law does not specify where meetings must be held, §103(a) of the Law states in part that "Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public..." Further, the intent of the Open Meetings Law is clearly stated in §100 as follows:
"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of an able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.
The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their
public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it."
As such, the Open Meetings Law confers a right upon the public to attend and listen to the deliberations of public bodies and to observe the performance of public officials who serve on such bodies.
From my perspective, every provision of law, including the Open Meetings Law, should be implemented in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent. In my opinion, it would be inappropriate and inconsistent with the Open Meetings Law to hold a meeting in a restaurant or other facility where those who attend are expected to make a purchase. Any member of the public has the right to attend meetings of public bodies. In my view, the location of the meeting in that instance would serve as an impediment to free access by the public.
I hope that I have been of assistance.