Maine Open Meetings

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(Last updated February 12, 2024)

Where can the law be found? Maine’s open meetings law falls under Chapter 13 of the state’s code (“Public Records and Access,” part of the broader “Freedom of Access Act” or FOAA) and can be found at Sections 1-401 through 1-412 of the Maine Revised Statutes Annotated. (1)

What is a “meeting” under the law? The law applies to all public proceedings, which are broadly defined as “the transactions of any functions affecting any or all citizens of the State,” including: the state legislature; boards or commissions of state agencies; the University of Maine system; boards or commissions of counties, municipalities, or school districts; or any advisory organizations with decision-making power (unless made exempt by state law).

When should the public be notified about meetings? The law requires these bodies to give public notice to all public proceedings, but it does not define a time period for adequate notice. Rather, it requires merely “ample time to allow public attendance and shall be disseminated in a manner reasonably calculated to notify the general public in the jurisdiction served by the body or agency concerned.” (2) The law also requires that, “[i]n the event of an emergency meeting, local representatives of the media shall be notified of the meeting, whenever practical, the notification to include time and location, by the same or faster means used to notify the members of the agency conducting the public proceeding.” (3)

When are meeting minutes required? The law declares that public proceedings shall be open to the public, and that a record of the proceeding (which includes, at least, the date, time, and location of the meeting, the members present, and all motions made and votes taken) be made available within a reasonable time. (4) Video or audio recordings of the meetings are not required, but will suffice as a record of the meeting. (5)

Can members of the public record open meetings? The public may record, broadcast, or take photographs during a public meeting, so long as these activities do not disrupt the meeting. (6)

Are government bodies allowed to meet remotely? Since August 2022, public bodies may also hold meetings online, provided certain conditions are met. First, public bodies must publish rules and procedures for holding meetings online and instructions on how the public can participate. (7) They also must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities to attend remote meetings. (8) Public bodies holding meetings online must provide the same opportunities for public comment as they would for meetings held in person, and they must record and make transcriptions of online meetings. (9) The law does not apply to the Maine State Legislature. (10)

When can a government body meet in secret? Public bodies may adjourn to executive sessions during regular meetings to discuss personnel matters; suspension of a public school student; the prospective sale, purchase, or lease of real estate; labor contracts; pending litigation; examinations for the purpose of licensing; or the discussion of any matter that would lead to the disclosure of a record that is exempt under the state’s open records law. (11) Three-fifths of the members of the agency must agree to move to an executive session, (12) and the members must cite the precise reason and statutory reference for the move to executive session. (13) The law prohibits an ordinance, order, rule, resolution, regulation, contract, appointment or other official action from being finally approved at an executive session. (14)

What can be done if the Open Meeting Law is violated? If a member of the public finds out that rules governing executive session have been violated, they can challenge the ordinance in any Superior Court in the state. (15) If the plaintiff prevails, the court will declare the ordinance null and void, and the court may award attorney’s fees and court costs to the plaintiff if it finds the illegal action was committed in bad faith. (16) A public official who willfully violates the state’s open records law may be subject to a civil fine of $500 for a first offense, or up to $2,000 for repeated offenses. (17)

(1) M.R.S.A. 1 § 402(2)(A-F).
(2)M.R.S.A. 1 § 406.
(3) Id.
(4) M.R.S.A. 1 § 403(2)(A-C).
(5) Id. at (3).
(6) M.R.S.A. 1 § 404.
(7) M.R.S.A. 1 § 403-B(2)(A).
(8) Id. at (2)(C).
(9) Id. at (2)(D).
(10) Id. at (4)(A).
(11) M.R.S.A. 1 § 405(6)(A-G).
(12) Id. at (3).
(13) Id. at (4).
(14) Id. at (2).
(15) M.R.S.A. 1 § 409(2).
(16) Id. at (4).
(17) M.R.S.A. 1 § 410(1-2).