As school boards and other public bodies return to meeting in person post-pandemic, some still leave the media and general public outside. A June 24, 2021, Charlotte Observer article quoting McGuireWoods Charlotte partner Brad Kutrow questioned the legality of such proceedings.
Normally, the state requires meetings of public bodies to be open to the public. Although North Carolina’s COVID-19 emergency order allowed government bodies to conduct remote meetings, barring public attendance is not allowed if every public official attends in person, the article reported, and the state already had lifted all capacity restrictions and social-distancing requirements.
The virus “can’t be a pretext to violate the open meetings law,” Kutrow said in the article. “We are in an environment now where the public health authorities think it’s safer to gather, and gather in larger groups. This ought to be one of the opportunities, one of the important ways that people can gather.”
The article also mentioned the June 11, 2021, North Carolina Supreme Court decision in Cheryl Humphrey Land Investment Co. v. Resco Products, which recognized citizens’ right to speak to officials at public meetings as “fundamental” under the First Amendment’s petition clause. Kutrow and associate Jocelyn Mitnaul Mallette represented Resco in the matter.