All meetings of public bodies must have proper notice and be open to the public.
A meeting is the convening of a quorum (majority) of any public body to discuss or act on any of that body's business, including work sessions. It is a "meeting" whether the members convene in person, by telephone, or electronic communication, or in any other way in which all members may communicate with each other contemporaneously. Legal meetings may never be conducted by email or any other format which does not comply with notice and public accessibility requirements, or which does not allow the public to hear, read or discern the discussion contemporaneously at the noticed meeting location.
A meeting does not include gatherings of fewer than a quorum, consultation with legal counsel; chance or social meetings neither planned or intended to discuss official matters and at which no decisions are made; strategy or negotiations regarding collective bargaining.
Meetings must be open to the public. Anyone, not just local residents, may attend, take notes, record and photograph the meeting. However, except as required in a public hearing, the public has no guaranteed right to speak.
For each meeting, a minimum of 24 hours (not including Sundays or holidays) must be given to the public. An exception may be made if an emergency situation arises in which 24-hour notice is not feasible.
Minutes must be kept for all public meetings and made available to the public upon request within five business days after the meeting (whether or not approved yet). Minutes must include members present, others participating, and a brief description of subjects discussed and final decisions made.
Public bodies may only deliberate in properly held meetings and may not use communication outside a meeting (such as sequential emails or phone calls) to circumvent the spirit or purpose of the law.
Boards may (but do not have to) allow one or more members to participate in a meeting by telephone or other electronic means if
- Physical attendance is not reasonably practical (note in meeting minutes);
- All members can simultaneously hear and speak with each other
- Except in an emergency, a quorum is physically present in the noticed meeting location;
- All parts of the meeting are audible or otherwise discernible to the public in that location.
A member participating in a meeting by telephone is deemed to be present at the meeting for purposes of voting. All votes take during such a meeting must be taken by roll call vote.
Nonpublic Sessions are meeting or portions of meetings that the public may not attend. Nonpublic sessions begin in a properly noticed public meeting. A motion for a nonpublic session is made and seconded, citing the statuary reason, and a majority roll call vote is taken. Once in the nonpublic session, only the reason(s) cited in the motion may be discussed. Minutes must be kept and made available to the public upon request within 72 hours after the meeting, whether or not approved yet unless the minutes are sealed. A vote to seal the minutes must be made by a 2/3 majority vote, and any vote to seal the minutes must be taken after the Board has returned to public session. Minutes should only be sealed if they may affect the reputation of a non-board member, it would be ineffective if they were disclosed, or they include preparations for emergency or terror situations.
Nonpublic sessions are allowed only for reasons listed in RSA 91-A:3, II, including:
- The dismissal, promotion, or compensation of any public employee or the disciplining of such employee, or the investigation of any charges against him/her, unless the employee affected (1) has a right to a meeting and (2) requests that the meeting be open, in which case the request shall be granted.
- The hiring of any person as a public employee.
- Matters which, if discussed in public, would likely adversely affect the reputation of any non-bard member, unless such person requests an open meeting.
- Buying, selling or leasing real or personal property if public discussion would give someone an unfair advantage over the municipality.
- Lawsuits filed or threatened in writing against he municpality until fully adjudicated or settled.
- Preparation for and carrying out emergency functions related to terrorism.
- Consideration of legal advice provided by legal counsel. either in writing or orally, to one or more members of the public body, even where legal counsel is not present.
Sources: New Hampshire Municipal Association fact sheet on public meetings, RSA 91-A:2 and RSA 91-A:3, RSA 202-A Public Libraries.