Attorney General’s office confirms it’s ‘unclear’ if Open Meetings Act applies to NPUs
By John Ruch
Earlier this month, SaportaReport covered the murky legal question of exactly how public and open the meetings of Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs) must be. Now the Georgia Attorney General’s office has confirmed it’s still murky and essentially would require a lawsuit to clarify.
The system of 25 NPUs around town is intended to provide the City with neighborhood advice on virtually any issue. Over the years, some NPUs have run into controversies over private meetings, barring certain people from attending and other transparency issues. A City code requires that NPU meetings be “open to the public,” but the legal meaning of that is unclear in practice.
Generally speaking, government bodies are subject to the Georgia Open Meetings Act (OMA), a law that broadly guarantees public notice and attendance for meetings and sets strict limits on secret operations. Atlanta Chief Transparency Officer Kristen Denius has said internally and to the media that the OMA does not apply to NPUs. but she based that claim on a 2015 opinion from the Attorney General’s office, which supervises the OMA, that merely says it is unclear whether the law applies.
SaportaReport recently filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s office regarding a questionable executive session held by the board of Buckhead’s NPU-B during its March 1 meeting. Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo responded by saying the legal status of NPUs remains so murky that the office is essentially rudderless pending a court ruling.
“Unfortunately, it is still unclear whether the Open Meetings Act applies to Atlanta’s NPUs,” Colangelo wrote. “Because of that uncertainty, we can’t effectively mediate complaints involving the NPUs.”
She also noted that even if the OMA applied, getting information about an executive session could still require a court ruling.
The Center for Civic Innovation, an Atlanta nonprofit, is proposing various reforms of the NPU system that include clarifying its legal status and providing more support to increase and guarantee public input.