(Updated Jan. 8, 2021)
Follow these steps to declare a local emergency and hold meetings by electronic means:
1. Mayor declares a local emergency
Only the mayor can declare a local emergency. The mayor declares a local emergency by declaration, which can last up to 3 days before council action is needed to extend the emergency. The emergency declaration invokes portions of local disaster plans and may authorize aid under those plans. See Minnesota Statute 12.29; Minnesota Statute 12.25.
The emergency declaration loosens some statutory requirements so that the city can better respond to an emergency. See Minnesota Statute 12.37 for more information on those areas.
2. Mayor declares in-person meetings not feasible
One requirement that must be met to hold a telephone meeting is a declaration by the mayor, chief legal officer, or chief administrator that in-person council or commission/committee meetings are not feasible due to the pandemic. See Minnesota Statute 13D.021, subdivision 1(1). It is recommended that this declaration be in writing. Most cities are doing this through a mayoral declaration. This declaration can be done as a separate document or as part of the declaration described in Part 1.
3. Council extends local emergency declaration by resolution
The council’s consent is needed to extend the mayor’s declaration of local emergency beyond three days. Councils do this by passing a resolution continuing the emergency declaration.
In addition, as part of this resolution, the council should make two required determinations for the purposes of meeting Open Meeting Law requirements in order to have entirely remote telephone or electronic meetings: that it is not feasible (1) that the public be able to observe the meeting at the regular meeting location, and (2) that either a council member, the city attorney, or the city’s chief administrative officer be present at the regular meeting location to facilitate the public’s access. See Minnesota Statute 13D.021, subdivision 1(3)-(4). If the council makes those determinations, a meeting can be held without anyone having to be present at city hall.
4. City provides public with way to monitor meeting
To hold a telephone or electronic meeting, the city must give the public, to the extent practical, a way to monitor the meeting from their remote location. See Minnesota Statute 13D.021, subdivision 3. Note that the statute does not require that the public be able to participate or give public comment, just that they be able to listen to the council proceedings.
5. City gives notice of meeting held by telephone or electronic means
For all meetings, the city is required to provide notice if some or all members of the council or commission/committee will be attending by telephone or electronic means. Also required in the notice is the regular meeting location and the way the public is able to monitor the meeting (dial-in number, password, link, etc.). See Minnesota Statute 13D.021, subdivision 4. This notice is required for all meetings, but the method and timing of notice depends on whether the meetings is a regular, special, or emergency meeting. For those requirements, see Minnesota Statute 13D.04.
6. Council holds the meeting
During the meeting, each council member must be able to hear one another and hear all discussion and testimony. See Minnesota Statute 13D.021, subdivision 1(2).
During the meeting, all votes must be taken by roll call so that each council member’s vote on each issue can be identified and recorded. See Minnesota Statute 13D.021, subdivision 1(5).
Virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and similar applications often contain a live chat feature. The Open Meeting Law requires the council to provide access to all materials the council is considering at that meeting. Any chat done during the meeting should be visible to the public, rather than done privately between council members and/or staff, in order to meet this requirement. The chat feature may be disabled if the application allows for it. However, chat messages that are sent during the meeting become part of the council record and likely are public data, per the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Cities should also consult their records retention schedules to determine the retention period for chat messages sent and received during council meetings.