Mayors can use their share of American Rescue Plan Act funding to pay for public notices ahead of their municipal planning board meetings at least in fiscal year 2022 to comply with government law requirements open.
That was among Guam Council of Mayors Executive Director Angel Sablan’s key messages during Thursday’s in-person meeting of mayors, after several months of meeting via Zoom.
That cost is factored into the MCOG’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, Sablan said.
“It’s incumbent on us to make sure that happens,” Sablan said, after mayors again raised concerns about additional costs to their operations just to post notices of upcoming meetings.
The Attorney General’s office recently provided guidance to mayors on the Open Government Act, in response to Sablan’s request for legal advice.
Mayors continued Thursday to worry about this “unfunded mandate” imposed on mayors and municipal planning councils.
At the meeting, the mayors said it cost nearly $400 to post public notices of a planning council meeting in print and broadcast media for a meeting. This translates to nearly $5,000 per year.
This also applies to the Council of Mayors, which meets at least once a month and sometimes twice when a special meeting is needed.
The mayors and municipal planning councils of each of the villages are required to comply with the Open Government Act’s requirement for public notices of their upcoming meetings, the OAG said.
But there are exemptions, including a committee meeting about the mayor of a village organizing an Easter egg hunt or Liberation Day festivities.
Generally, subcommittee meetings do not require notice of their meetings to be published, the OAG said.
This general rule, however, depends on whether any “action” takes place during these meetings.
The MCOG also posed a question relating to meetings that do not require a quorum but whose actions or decisions are taken by a vote of those present.
The OAG said: “Any majority meeting of a public body, including the Council of Mayors, where action is taken or decisions requiring a vote are made must be held in a duly notified public meeting. “
“Any decision made or action taken as a result of a meeting that is not properly notified is void,” the OAG wrote in its letter to Sablan.
The law states that every member of a public body who attends a meeting of a public body where an action is taken in violation of the law, knowing that the meeting violates it, “is guilty of a misdemeanour.” , said the MPC. wrote.
“In order to avoid breaking the law, we advise all public bodies to keep in mind that the purpose of subcommittees is not to take action or make final decisions … but to conduct research, prepare reports or make recommendations,” the OAG said. mentioned.
MCOG President Jesse Alig, Mayor of Piti, said mayors are all for transparency and accessibility, but there is a problem of a lack of resources to do so.
During the meeting of mayors, Sablan said that it was not enough for mayors to advertise in newspapers, on radio or television, but that they also had to register with the Office of Guam Government Technology or notify so that the notice is posted online at notices.guam .gov.
The OAG wrote that public notice for the purposes of the Open Government Act requires “publication in” both “the newspaper or on radio or television” and “publication on the website of the ‘Public Notice of Guam’.
If a town planning council needs to hold a meeting because a public hearing is required by another body such as the Department of Land Management for a zoning request, “the DLM is responsible” for paying the notices public, based on the opinion of the GA, says Sablan.
Other mayors said it was not just about posting public notices, but also ensuring that actual meetings were accessible to the general public, such as live streaming of meetings.
Some town halls do not have the necessary equipment to broadcast their municipal council meetings live.
Sablan said he informed the OAG that this expense was not budgeted.
But the answer remains: “You have to do it,” Sablan told the mayors.
Ordot-Chalan Pago Mayor Jessy Gogue said a long-term solution would be to change the law.
“It’s all these unfunded mandates that are driving me crazy,” he said. “They are increasing our costs. Are we going to rob Peter to pay Paul? It impacts our ability to do our job.”