Tennessee Open Meetings Act FAQs
The Tennessee Open Meetings Act defines a “meeting” as “the convening of a governing body of a public body for which a quorum is required to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision.” A “governing body” is “any public body [consisting] of two or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-102.
Meetings to make a recommendation to a single individual, such as a county mayor or dean of an educational institution, are not “meetings” covered by the Open Meetings Act. On-site inspections, chance meetings, and informational workshops are also not considered “meetings” under the Act, so long as there is no discussion or deliberation toward a decision that must be voted on by a quorum of a governing body. Advisory meetings with attorneys regarding anticipated or ongoing litigation are also exempt from the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, but actual decisions regarding litigation must be made at an open public meeting.
Adequate public notice is not defined in the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Tennessee courts have determined that adequate public notice is sufficient notice under the circumstances that would fairly inform the public of the meeting. Memphis Publ'g Co. v. City of Memphis, 513 S.W.2d 511, 513 (Tenn. 1974).
The Tennessee Open Meetings Act grants the public the right to attend and observe public meetings. It also requires governing bodies to provide a period for public comment at every meeting where there is an actionable item on the agenda. The public comments must be germane to items on the agenda. The governing body may put reasonable restrictions on the period for public comment, such as the number of speakers or the time period for public comment. A governing body must ensure opposing viewpoints are fairly represented. 2023 Public Chapter 0300.
The Tennessee Open Meetings Act declares that the formation of public policy and public business must be transacted transparently and not in secret. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-101(a). To accomplish this goal, the Tennessee Open Meetings Act requires that all meetings of a governing body be open to the public, that a governing body provide adequate public notice of the meeting, and in certain circumstances, that the governing body provide a period for public comment regarding agenda items. Local government legislative bodies are required to provide an agenda in advance of a meeting. Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 8-44-102, 8-44-103, 2023 Public Chapters 0213 and 0300.
The Tennessee Open Meetings Act requires governing bodies to provide adequate public notice of their meetings. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-103. Although local government legislative bodies must make the agenda of a public meeting available at least 48 hours prior to a meeting, TOMA does not require the meeting notice to include the contents of a regular meeting. Lewis v. Cleveland Mun. Airport Auth., 289 S.W.3d 808 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009); 2023 Public Acts 213. Notice of a special-called meeting must include the purpose for which the meeting is being called. Fisher v. Rutherford Cnty. Reg'l Plan. Comm'n, No. M2012-01397-COA-R3CV, 2013 WL 2382300, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 29, 2013). For meetings requiring a period for public comment, the meeting notice must disclose how a person may indicate their desire to provide public comment at the meeting. 2023 Public Acts 0300.
The Tennessee Open Meetings Act generally only allows members of state governing bodies to participate by electronic means. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-108. Such authority does not generally exist for city and county governing bodies. Elected governing bodies of counties, cities, metropolitan governments and school boards may establish an internet forum as provided in Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-109. However, such internet forums cannot act as a substitute for decision making by a governing body at a meeting held in accordance with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.
Actions taken at a meeting in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, other than actions related to public indebtedness, are void. Tenn. Code Ann. § 8-44-105. If a court finds that a violation occurred, the court’s findings regarding a violation must be filed with the meeting minutes and the governing body must file semi-annual reports while under the court’s jurisdiction for one year.
An incorporated city, town, metropolitan goverment, or county legislative body must publish an agenda forty-eight (48) hours prior to a meeting. The agenda must reasonably describe what will be deliberated or acted upon at the meeting. The agenda can be published on the legislative body's website.
The legislative body can still discuss or act on items that are not on the agenda, as long as the body follows all of its bylaws, rules, and procedures. If a body is found to violate the requirement to publish an agenda, a court may find the body to have violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act.
Public Chapter No. 213 - https://publications.tn.sosfiles.com/acts/113/pub/pc0213.pdf