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Local Government Meetings and Budget Processes

Banner image of COVID-19 social distancing advice and safety measures

(4/17/20) During the past several weeks, SDAO has been working with our local government partners, including the Association of Oregon Counties, Oregon School Boards Association and the League of Oregon Cities, to address concerns related to conflict between the requirements of social distancing and limited public gatherings (Executive Order 20-12) as it relates to local government requirements for public meetings and budget adoptions by June 30th.  As you know, local governments must follow public meetings requirements, local budget law timelines, and quorums that are in direct conflict with the Governor’s Executive Order or may not be legally satisfied during this unprecedented health care emergency. As a coalition of local governments, we have strongly advocated for the Governor to address these issues and provide guidance to our local government members.

 

Yesterday, Governor Kate Brown signed Executive Order 20-16, entitled Keep Government Working: Ordering Necessary Measures to Ensure Safe Public Meetings and Continued Operations by Local Government During Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak.  We are pleased to see this order issued by the Governor to assist local governments in navigating these uncertain times. However, we will continue to advocate for similar relief statutorily if the Legislative Assembly is called into a special or emergency session.

 

Executive Order 20-16 covers many of the issues that have been identified by SDAO members as obstacles in lawfully adopting local budgets. It creates flexibility in Public Meeting Law and Local Budget Law during the COVID-19 emergency period, including but not limited to: allowing alternative meeting formats and options for public comment, changing the quorum requirement for conducting a public meeting, allowing alternative meeting notice publication options for local budget law, and creating an exception to local budget law for necessary expenditures when a district is unable to adopt their budget by June 30th, provided the district adopts a budget and spending appropriations as soon as they are able to.

 

We have outlined the information in the order below. For more detailed information, please review Executive Order 20-16.

 

Public Meeting Changes

 

First and foremost, the order requires that all public meetings shall be held by remote means “whenever possible”.  Additionally, the order lifts the requirement during the COVID-19 emergency period for there to be a physical location for members of the public to attend public meetings.  Districts will be allowed to hold a remote or virtual meeting, without a physical location, as long as there are means for members of the public to listen to or virtually attend the meeting.  One caution—this change does not apply to executive sessions.  If, for some reason, the district cannot hold a meeting using remote means, there may be a physical meeting where appropriate social distancing is maintained. 

 

Given the variety and scope of tools available for remote meetings, there are very few times when a physical meeting would be necessary.  If your district is in a situation where it is unable to hold a remote meeting, consult with your district’s legal counsel or contact Tonya Grass ((redacted) or 800-285-5461) for available options.

 

Additionally, the order directs that during the emergency time, a quorum of a district board to take affirmative acts is a majority of its members, excluding those unable to attend because of illness due to COVID-19.

 

Budget Process

 

In addition to the changes to the public meeting requirements, Executive Order 20-16 provides additional guidance on the budget process.  The order allows public question and comment to be taken via multiple remote formats, including remote meeting, telephone, and email.  The required budget positing may now occur if the notice, summary or other documents are displayed in a “prominent manner” on the Internet.  The order also requires that districts allow written communication—including email from the public on the budget process.  It would be advisable in the notice of the budget process and meetings to instruct members of the public how to communicate their views and designate a timeline that will allow district staff to compile the information for consideration during the budget meeting.

 

Most significantly for the budget process, the order allows the district to make reasonable expenditures for the continued operation of district business into the next budget year.  It requires, however, consistent with the public meeting guidance above, that districts work to correct any delay in the process as soon as reasonably possible.  It is important to note that this order does not change the requirement to certify a district’s tax levy to the assessor by July 15th. If you are unable to adopt your budget and resolutions imposing and categorizing taxes timely, the district must request an extension from the county assessor. Any extension request must be in writing and received prior to July 15th.  If you have specific questions regarding this issue, contact the Department of Revenue’s Finance, Taxation, & Exemptions team.  They are available to assist you with question regarding Local Budget Law.  They can be reached by email at (redacted) or phone 503-945-8293.

 

Below is the Governor’s news release regarding Executive Order 20-16. If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at (redacted).

NEWS RELEASE

April 16, 2020

Media Contact:
Charles Boyle, 503-931-7773

 

Governor Kate Brown Issues Order to Preserve Civic Engagement, Essential Local Services During COVID-19 Crisis
(Portland, OR) — Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order 20-16 this week, directing state and local governments to take necessary measures to facilitate public participation in decision-making, helping ensure the continued operation of local government and the delivery of essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak. Local governments across Oregon are expected to begin their budget processes this month, and this order gives them the authority and flexibility in organizing the civic engagement necessary to move forward those processes and approve spending on essential services.

“Public participation in government decision-making is fundamental to our representative form of government,” said Governor Kate Brown. “While the COVID-19 crisis has changed the way we live, work, and operate, we still must ensure that every voice is heard by elected officials and other policymakers and that the critical functions of local government can continue unimpeded.”

The order directs state and local government bodies to hold public meetings and hearings by telephone or electronic means whenever possible. When in-person meetings are necessary, it directs governments to use appropriate social distancing measures to ensure the safety of participants. The order waives in-person requirements for public testimony if testimony can be provided by telephone or electronic means.

For local government budget processes, the executive order authorizes cities, counties, school districts, and other special districts to hold budget hearings and elicit citizen participation by telephone, electronic means, or in writing, so those governments can complete their budgeting process safely and on-time, to ensure continued provision of essential government services. The order will allow local governments to complete their budget processes, so that essential services such police, fire, and emergency response, street maintenance, water and sewer, and building permitting continue uninterrupted.

All government entities are still expected to ensure their processes provide equal access to all Oregonians, and that their processes for virtual public participation do not impact accessibility.
 

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