Make sure your city is complying with all the legal requirements for virtual truth-in-taxation meetings.
As cities prepare for their fall truth-in-taxation meetings, some are considering having these meetings virtually.
The first step a municipality must take to hold a virtual truth-in-taxation meeting is to assure the proper procedural requirements are met to hold the meeting in a virtual setting. Before the virtual meeting takes place, the presiding officer, chief legal counsel, or chief administrative officer for the governing body must make a finding that it is not practical or prudent to meet in person because of a health pandemic or an emergency declared under Minnesota Statutes, chapter 12.
Gov. Tim Walz’s declaration of a peacetime emergency allows cities the ability to hold meetings virtually. However, it is important to note that an official still must make a finding that meeting in person is not practical or prudent. This declaration provides continuing authority to meet virtually.
Declare in-person meetings unfeasible
It is also important at the first virtual meeting for the city council to make a finding that in-person meetings are unfeasible due to the pandemic. This council finding is important to comply with Open Meeting Law requirements while holding a virtual meeting.
Without this finding, a city must allow the public to remotely view the meeting from the regularly scheduled location and must have a member of city staff present at the regularly scheduled location. If the goal of holding a virtual meeting is to alleviate transmission risks among the public, then this is a crucial step to allow for a totally virtual meeting while complying with the Open Meeting Law.
Meeting requirements in a virtual setting
It is important to remember that all requirements set forth under Minnesota Statutes, section 275.065, the statute that requires truth-in-taxation meetings, are still applicable in a virtual setting.
The meeting is required to take place after Nov. 24 and no later than Dec. 28 and to be held at 6 p.m. or later. The truth-in-taxation meeting may take place during a regularly scheduled meeting, and only requires a special meeting if a regularly scheduled meeting does not take place during the Nov. 24 to Dec. 28 window. The meeting must also comply with all public notice and comment requirements set forth under Minnesota Statutes, section 275.065.
Choose technology and provide notice
To meet the requirements for a virtual truth-in-taxation meeting, it is important for cities to plan ahead. You need to determine what software or program you will use for your virtual meeting, so you can provide notice on how to access the meeting. The mailed notices usually come from your county, but the city may want to use other advertising methods to help educate residents on this change. The League offers an information memo outlining recommended technology options for holding virtual meetings.
Take comments before meeting
After a technology option has been selected for the meeting and notice has been provided to the public, it is a good practice to provide a forum for public comment prior to the meeting. This can be accomplished by setting up a telephone number or web link to a comment form.
Allowing for a window of public comment prior to the meeting may help to organize the meeting around the issues and persons to speak in advance. Having an organized meeting is helpful in avoiding the common virtual meeting issue of people talking over one another.
The additional requirements imposed on meetings conducted virtually deal with establishing a clear record. The first requirement is that all votes are conducted by roll call, so each member’s vote on each issue can be identified and recorded.
The second requirement is that all members of the body participating in the meeting, regardless of physical location, must be able to hear one another during the meeting. This can be challenging if good meeting management is not adhered to and people talk over one another.
It may be helpful to have a member of city staff control who has “the floor” to speak during the meeting to prevent issues with hearing the speaker. Specific determinations of how to accomplish this vary, depending on the technology option selected.
More factors to consider
There are several factors that a city may weigh when considering whether to hold the truth-in-taxation meeting virtually. First and foremost, has Gov. Walz extended the peacetime emergency or is there still a pandemic in place? If the peacetime emergency is not extended and the pandemic is over, cities will need to take slightly different steps to hold a virtual meeting than described in this article.
Other important factors are demographic and geographic considerations. For example, members of the public may not have access to consistent high-speed internet in your area because of location or cost. Both of these scenarios would mean that video conferencing may not be the best option and instead a teleconferencing line should be established as an alternative.
Whether your city decides to host the meeting in person or virtually, you should strive to give residents as many opportunities to address the council as possible, including phone calls, emails, and meetings.