11. Open Meetings Law
§ 143-318.9. Public policy.
Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.
§ 143-318.10. All official meetings of public bodies open to the public.
- (a) Except as provided in G.S. 143-318.11, 143-318.14A, and 143-318.18, each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting.”
- (b) As used in this Article, “public body” means any elected or appointed authority, board, commission, committee, council, or other body of the State, or of one or more counties, cities, school administrative units, constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina, or other political subdivisions or public corporations in the State that (i) is composed of two or more members and (ii) exercises or is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function. In addition, “public body” means the governing board of a “public hospital” as defined in G.S. 159-39 and the governing board of any nonprofit corporation to which a hospital facility has been sold or conveyed pursuant to G.S. 131E-8, any subsidiary of such nonprofit corporation, and any nonprofit corporation owning the corporation to which the hospital facility has been sold or conveyed.
- (c) “Public body” does not include (i) a meeting solely among the professional staff of a public body, or (ii) the medical staff of a public hospital or the medical staff of a hospital that has been sold or conveyed pursuant to G.S. 131E-8.
- (d) “Official meeting” means a meeting, assembly, or gathering together at any time or place or the simultaneous communication by conference telephone or other electronic means of a majority of the members of a public body for the purpose of conducting hearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business within the jurisdiction, real or apparent, of the public body. However, a social meeting or other informal assembly or gathering together of the members of a public body does not constitute an official meeting unless called or held to evade the spirit and purposes of this Article.
- (e) Every public body shall keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings, including any closed sessions held pursuant to G.S. 143-318.11. Such minutes may be in written form or, at the option of the public body, may be in the form of sound or video and sound recordings. When a public body meets in closed session, it shall keep a general account of the closed session so that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired. Such accounts may be a written narrative, or video or audio recordings. Such minutes and accounts shall be public records within the meaning of the Public Records Law, G.S. 132-1 et seq.; provided, however, that minutes or an account of a closed session conducted in compliance with G.S. 143-318.11 may be withheld from public inspection so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.
§ 143-318.11. Closed sessions.
- (a) Permitted Purposes. -- It is the policy of this State that closed sessions shall be held only when required to permit a public body to act in the public interest as permitted in this section. A public body may hold a closed session and exclude the public only when a closed session is required:
- (1) To prevent the disclosure of information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to the law of this State or of the United States, or not considered a public record within the meaning of Chapter 132 of the General Statutes.
- (2) To prevent the premature disclosure of an honorary degree, scholarship, prize, or similar award.
- (3) To consult with an attorney employed or retained by the public body in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the public body, which privilege is hereby acknowledged. General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant. The public body may consider and give instructions to an attorney concerning the handling or settlement of a claim, judicial action, mediation, arbitration, or administrative procedure. If the public body has approved or considered a settlement, other than a malpractice settlement by or on behalf of a hospital, in closed session, the terms of that settlement shall be reported to the public body and entered into its minutes as soon as possible within a reasonable time after the settlement is concluded.
- (4) To discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the public body, including agreement on a tentative list of economic development incentives that may be offered by the public body in negotiations. The action approving the signing of an economic development contract or commitment, or the action authorizing the payment of economic development expenditures, shall be taken in an open session.
- (5) To establish, or to instruct the public body’s staff or negotiating agents concerning the position to be taken by or on behalf of the public body in negotiating (i) the price and other material terms of a contract or proposed contract for the acquisition of real property by purchase, option, exchange, or lease; or (ii) the amount of compensation and other material terms of an employment contract or proposed employment contract.
- (6) To consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or to hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against an individual public officer or employee. General personnel policy issues may not be considered in a closed session. A public body may not consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, appointment, or removal of a member of the public body or another body and may not consider or fill a vacancy among its own membership except in an open meeting. Final action making an appointment or discharge or removal by a public body having final authority for the appointment or discharge or removal shall be taken in an open meeting.
- (7) To plan, conduct, or hear reports concerning investigations of alleged criminal misconduct.
- (8) To formulate plans by a local board of education relating to emergency response to incidents of school violence.
- (9) To discuss and take action regarding plans to protect public safety as it relates to existing or potential terrorist activity and to receive briefings by staff members, legal counsel, or law enforcement or emergency service officials concerning actions taken or to be taken to respond to such activity.
- (b) Repealed by Laws 1991, c. 694, § 4.
- (c) Calling a Closed Session. -- A public body may hold a closed session only upon a motion duly made and adopted at an open meeting. Every motion to close a meeting shall cite one or more of the permissible purposes listed in subsection (a) of this section. A motion based on subdivision (a)(1) of this section shall also state the name or citation of the law that renders the information to be discussed privileged or confidential. A motion based on subdivision (a)(3) of this section shall identify the parties in each existing lawsuit concerning which the public body expects to receive advice during the closed session.
- (d) Repealed by Laws 1993, c. 570, § 2, eff. Oct. 1, 1994.
§ 143-318.12. Public notice of official meetings.
- (a) If a public body has established, by ordinance, resolution, or otherwise, a schedule of regular meetings, it shall cause a current copy of that schedule, showing the time and place of regular meetings, to be kept on file as follows:
- (1) For public bodies that are part of State government, with the Secretary of State;
- (2) For the governing board and each other public body that is part of a county government, with the clerk to the board of county commissioners;
- (3) For the governing board and each other public body that is part of a city government, with the city clerk;
- (4) For each other public body, with its clerk or secretary, or, if the public body does not have a clerk or secretary, with the clerk to the board of county commissioners in the county in which the public body normally holds its meetings.
- If a public body changes its schedule of regular meetings, it shall cause the revised schedule to be filed as provided in subdivisions (1) through (4) of this subsection at least seven calendar days before the day of the first meeting held pursuant to the revised schedule.
- (b) If a public body holds an official meeting at any time or place other than a time or place shown on the schedule filed pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, it shall give public notice of the time and place of that meeting as provided in this subsection.
- (1) If a public body recesses a regular, special, or emergency meeting held pursuant to public notice given in compliance with this subsection, and the time and place at which the meeting is to be continued is announced in open session, no further notice shall be required.
- (2) For any other meeting, except an emergency meeting, the public body shall cause written notice of the meeting stating its purpose (i) to be posted on the principal bulletin board of the public body or, if the public body has no such bulletin board, at the door of its usual meeting room, and (ii) to be mailed, e-mailed, or delivered to each newspaper, wire service, radio station, and television station that has filed a written request for notice with the clerk or secretary of the public body or with some other person designated by the public body. The public body shall also cause notice to be mailed, e-mailed, or delivered to any person, in addition to the representatives of the media listed above, who has filed a written request with the clerk, secretary, or other person designated by the public body. This notice shall be posted and mailed, e-mailed, or delivered at least 48 hours before the time of the meeting. The notice required to be posted on the principal bulletin board or at the door of its usual meeting room shall be posted on the door of the building or on the building in an area accessible to the public if the building containing the principal bulletin board or usual meeting room is closed to the public continuously for 48 hours before the time of the meeting. The public body may require each newspaper, wire service, radio station, and television station submitting a written request for notice to renew the request annually. The public body shall charge a fee to persons other than the media, who request notice, of ten dollars ($10.00) per calendar year, and may require them to renew their requests quarterly. No fee shall be charged for notices sent by e-mail.
- (3) For an emergency meeting, the public body shall cause notice of the meeting to be given to each local newspaper, local wire service, local radio station, and local television station that has filed a written request, which includes the newspaper’s, wire service’s, or station’s telephone number, for emergency notice with the clerk or secretary of the public body or with some other person designated by the public body. This notice shall be given either by e-mail, by telephone, or by the same method used to notify the members of the public body and shall be given immediately after notice has been given to those members. This notice shall be given at the expense of the party notified. Only business connected with the emergency may be considered at a meeting to which notice is given pursuant to this paragraph.
- (c) Repealed by S.L. 1991-694, § 6.
- (d) If a public body has a Web site and has established a schedule of regular meetings, the public body shall post the schedule of regular meetings to the Web site.
- (e) If a public body has a Web site that one or more of its employees maintains, the public body shall post notice of any meeting held under subdivisions (b)(1) and (b)(2) of this section prior to the scheduled time of that meeting.
- (f) For purposes of this section, an “emergency meeting” is one called because of generally unexpected circumstances that require immediate consideration by the public body.
§ 143-318.13. Electronic meetings; written ballots; acting by reference.
- (a) 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.
- (b) Written Ballots.--Except as provided in this subsection or by joint resolution of the General Assembly, a public body may not vote by secret or written ballot. If a public body decides to vote by written ballot, each member of the body so voting shall sign his or her ballot; and the minutes of the public body shall show the vote of each member voting. The ballots shall be available for public inspection in the office of the clerk or secretary to the public body immediately following the meeting at which the vote took place and until the minutes of that meeting are approved, at which time the ballots may be destroyed.
- (c) Acting by Reference.--The members of a public body shall not deliberate, vote, or otherwise take action upon any matter by reference to a letter, number or other designation, or other secret device or method, with the intention of making it impossible for persons attending a meeting of the public body to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon. However, this subsection does not prohibit a public body from deliberating, voting, or otherwise taking action by reference to an agenda, if copies of the agenda, sufficiently worded to enable the public to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon, are available for public inspection at the meeting.
§ 143-318.14. Broadcasting or recording meetings.
- (a) Except as herein below provided, any radio or television station is entitled to broadcast all or any part of a meeting required to be open. Any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.
- (b) A public body may regulate the placement and use of equipment necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming, or recording a meeting, so as to prevent undue interference with the meeting. However, the public body must allow such equipment to be placed within the meeting room in such a way as to permit its intended use, and the ordinary use of such equipment shall not be declared to constitute undue interference; provided, however, that if the public body, in good faith, should determine that the size of the meeting room is such that all the members of the public body, members of the public present, and the equipment and personnel necessary for broadcasting, photographing, filming, and tape-recording the meeting cannot be accommodated in the meeting room without unduly interfering with the meeting and an adequate alternative meeting room is not readily available, then the public body, acting in good faith and consistent with the purposes of this Article, may require the pooling of such equipment and the personnel operating it; and provided further, if the news media, in order to facilitate news coverage, request an alternate site for the meeting, and the public body grants the request, then the news media making such request shall pay any costs incurred by the public body in securing an alternate meeting site.
§ 143-318.14A. Legislative commissions, committees, and standing subcommittees.
(a) Except as provided in subsection (e) below, all official meetings of commissions, committees, and standing subcommittees of the General Assembly (including, without limitation, joint committees and study committees), shall be held in open session. For the purpose of this section, the following also shall be considered to be “commissions committees and standing subcommittees of the General Assembly”:
- (1) The Legislative Research Commission;
- (2) The Legislative Services Commission;
- (3) Repealed by S.L. 2006-203, § 93, eff. July 1, 2007.
- (4) Repealed by S.L. 2011-291, § 2.50, eff. June 24, 2011.
- (5) The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations;
- (6) The Joint Legislative Commission on Local Government;
- (7) Deleted by S.L. 1997-443, § 12.30, eff. August 28, 1997.
- (8) Repealed by S.L. 2011-291, § 2.50, eff. June 24, 2011.
- (9) The Environmental Review Commission;
- (10) The Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee;
- (11) The Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee;
- (12) Repealed by S.L. 2011-291, § 2.50, eff. June 24, 2011; S.L. 2011-266, § 1.28(b), eff. July 1, 2011.
- (13) The Commission on Children with Special Needs;
- (14) Repealed by S.L. 2011-291, § 2.50, eff. June 24, 2011.
- (15) The Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission; and
- (16) Repealed by S.L. 2011-291, § 2.50, eff. June 24, 2011.
- (17) The standing Committees on Pensions and Retirement.
- (b) Reasonable public notice of all meetings of commissions, committees, and standing subcommittees of the General Assembly shall be given. For purposes of this subsection, “reasonable public notice” includes, but is not limited to:
- (1) Notice given openly at a session of the Senate or of the House; or
- (2) Notice mailed or sent by electronic mail to those who have requested notice, and to the Legislative Services Office, which shall post the notice on the General Assembly web site.
- G.S. 143-318.12 shall not apply to meetings of commissions, committees, and standing subcommittees of the General Assembly.
- (c) A commission, committee, or standing subcommittee of the General Assembly may take final action only in an open meeting.
- (d) A violation of this section by members of the General Assembly shall be punishable as prescribed by the rules of the House or the Senate.
- (e) The following sections shall apply to meetings of commissions, committees, and standing subcommittees of the General Assembly: G.S. 143-318.10(e) and G.S. 143-318.11, G.S. 143-318.13 and G.S. 143-318.14, G.S. 143-318.16 through G.S. 143-318.17.
§ 143-318.15. Repealed by S.L. 2006-203, § 94, eff. July 1, 2007.
§ 143-318.16. Injunctive relief against violations of Article.
- (a) The General Court of Justice has jurisdiction to enter mandatory or prohibitory injunctions to enjoin (i) threatened violations of this Article, (ii) the recurrence of past violations of this Article, or (iii) continuing violations of this Article. Any person may bring an action in the appropriate division of the General Court of Justice seeking such an injunction; and the plaintiff need not allege or prove special damage different from that suffered by the public at large. It is not a defense to such an action that there is an adequate remedy at law.
- (b) Any injunction entered pursuant to this section shall describe the acts enjoined with reference to the violations of this Article that have been proved in the action.
- (c) Repealed by Laws 1985 (Reg. Sess., 1986), c. 932, § 3, eff. Oct. 1, 1986.
§ 143-318.16A. Additional remedies for violations of Article.
- (a) Any person may institute a suit in the superior court requesting the entry of a judgment declaring that any action of a public body was taken, considered, discussed, or deliberated in violation of this Article. Upon such a finding, the court may declare any such action null and void. Any person may seek such a declaratory judgment, and the plaintiff need not allege or prove special damage different from that suffered by the public at large. The public body whose action the suit seeks to set aside shall be made a party. The court may order other persons be made parties if they have or claim any right, title, or interest that would be directly affected by a declaratory judgment voiding the action that the suit seeks to set aside.
- (b) A suit seeking declaratory relief under this section must be commenced within 45 days following the initial disclosure of the action that the suit seeks to have declared null and void; provided, however, that any suit for declaratory judgment brought pursuant to this section that seeks to set aside a bond order or bond referendum shall be commenced within the limitation periods prescribed by G.S. 159-59 and G.S. 159-62. If the challenged action is recorded in the minutes of the public body, its initial disclosure shall be deemed to have occurred on the date the minutes are first available for public inspection. If the challenged action is not recorded in the minutes of the public body, the date of its initial disclosure shall be determined by the court based on a finding as to when the plaintiff knew or should have known that the challenged action had been taken.
- (c) In making the determination whether to declare the challenged action null and void, the court shall consider the following and any other relevant factors:
- (1) The extent to which the violation affected the substance of the challenged action;
- (2) The extent to which the violation thwarted or impaired access to meetings or proceedings that the public had a right to attend;
- (3) The extent to which the violation prevented or impaired public knowledge or understanding of the people’s business;
- (4) Whether the violation was an isolated occurrence, or was a part of a continuing pattern of violations of this Article by the public body;
- (5) The extent to which persons relied upon the validity of the challenged action, and the effect on such persons of declaring the challenged action void;
- (6) Whether the violation was committed in bad faith for the purpose of evading or subverting the public policy embodied in this Article.
- (d) A declaratory judgment pursuant to this section may be entered as an alternative to, or in combination with, an injunction entered pursuant to G.S. 143-318.16.
- (e) The validity of any enacted law or joint resolution or passed simple resolution of either house of the General Assembly is not affected by this Article.
§ 143-318.16B. Assessments and awards of attorneys’ fees.
When an action is brought pursuant to G.S. 143-318.16 or G.S. 143-318.16A, the court may make written findings specifying the prevailing party or parties, and may award the prevailing party or parties a reasonable attorney’s fee, to be taxed against the losing party or parties as part of the costs. The court may order that all or any portion of any fee as assessed be paid personally by any individual member or members of the public body found by the court to have knowingly or intentionally committed the violation; provided, that no order against any individual member shall issue in any case where the public body or that individual member seeks the advice of an attorney, and such advice is followed.
§ 143-318.16C. Accelerated hearing; priority.
Actions brought pursuant to G.S. 143-318.16 or G.S. 143-318.16A shall be set down for immediate hearing, and subsequent proceedings in such actions shall be accorded priority by the trial and appellate courts.
§ 143-318.16D. Local acts.
Any reference in any city charter or local act to an “executive session” is amended to read “closed session”.
§ 143-318.17. Disruptions of official meetings.
A person who willfully interrupts, disturbs, or disrupts an official meeting and who, upon being directed to leave the meeting by the presiding officer, willfully refuses to leave the meeting is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor.
§ 143-318.18. Exceptions.
This Article does not apply to:
- (1) Grand and petit juries.
- (2) Any public body that is specifically authorized or directed by law to meet in executive or confidential session, to the extent of the authorization or direction.
- (3) The Judicial Standards Commission.
- (3a) The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission.
- (4) Repealed by Laws 1991, c. 694, § 9.
- (4a) The Legislative Ethics Committee.
- (4b) A conference committee of the General Assembly.
- (4c) A caucus by members of the General Assembly; however, no member of the General Assembly shall participate in a caucus which is called for the purpose of evading or subverting this Article.
- (5) Law enforcement agencies.
- (6) A public body authorized to investigate, examine, or determine the character and other qualifications of applicants for professional or occupational licenses or certificates or to take disciplinary actions against persons holding such licenses or certificates, (i) while preparing, approving, administering, or grading examinations or (ii) while meeting with respect to an individual applicant for or holder of such a license or certificate. This exception does not amend, repeal, or supersede any other statute that requires a public hearing or other practice and procedure in a proceeding before such a public body.
- (7) Any public body subject to the State Budget Act, Chapter 143C of the General Statutes and exercising quasi-judicial functions, during a meeting or session held solely for the purpose of making a decision in an adjudicatory action or proceeding.
- (8) The boards of trustees of endowment funds authorized by G.S. 116-36 or G.S. 116-238.
- (9) Repealed by Laws 1991, c. 694, § 9.
- (10) The Board of Awards.
- (11) The General Court of Justice.