Board meetings via teleconference: An explainer
Board members benefit from additional flexibility
view over a woman's shoulder of a laptop screen holding a conference call
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the only way for governing boards to conduct meetings remotely was to comply with the requirements for “Traditional Teleconferencing” which included, among other requirements, that: (1) the agenda be posted at all teleconference locations, (2) all teleconference locations be identified in the notice and agenda, (3) all teleconference locations be open to the public, and (4) public comment be allowed at all teleconference locations.

While the option to participate by way of traditional teleconferencing still exists, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued several executive orders that allowed boards to conduct meetings remotely with less onerous requirements. The pandemic and technological advances demonstrated that board meetings could successfully be held remotely, and in some circumstances increased public access and participation, while allowing board members more flexibility. The executive orders have since been rescinded, but many of the changes to teleconferencing rules live on through legislative changes to the Brown Act.

“AB 2449 would provide an avenue for constituents to interact with their representatives in situations where they might have not previously been able to.”

Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park)

Teleconferencing during a proclaimed state of emergency

In September 2021, when the COVID-19 executive orders ended but shutdowns persisted, the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 361, which permits boards to hold meetings remotely during a proclaimed state of emergency. California’s potential for natural disasters such as wildfires make it important for boards to be aware that meetings may be held via teleconference during any proclaimed state of emergency, as long as certain requirements are met, until Jan. 1, 2024.

More information about holding board meetings during a proclaimed state of emergency can be found at blog.csba.org/ab-361-followup.

New rules for teleconferencing
AB 2449 provides two additional options for board members to attend meetings via teleconference, until Jan. 1, 2026, during either a (1) personal emergency or (2) for just cause.

Assemblymember and author of AB 2449, Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), stated, “While remote participation in meetings was necessitated by the pandemic, we have simultaneously demonstrated the value of remote participation options when individuals are unable to attend a physical gathering … AB 2449 would provide an avenue for constituents to interact with their representatives in situations where they might have not previously been able to.”

If a board member participates remotely because of a personal emergency or just cause, they are not required to participate from a location that is accessible to the public or identify the location on the agenda. However, at least a quorum of the board must participate in person from a single location, open to the public, within the district. Additionally, the board member appearing remotely must utilize both audio and visual technology. Before any action is taken, the trustee must also publicly disclose whether any other individuals 18 years or older are present at the remote location, and if so, the nature of their relationship.

The district is required to provide public access to the meeting via a two-way audiovisual or two-way audio service and a live webcast, with public comment being allowed in real time remotely, as well as in person. The agenda must include information describing how members of the public can access the platform.

If a disruption prevents broadcasting the meeting, or a disruption that is within the board’s control prevents members of the public from offering public comments, the board may not take action on agenda items until public access to the meeting has been restored.

Establishing a personal emergency
A board member with a personal emergency may attend a meeting remotely when approved by the board. A personal emergency exists when a physical or family medical emergency prevents the trustee from attending in person.

A board member may request to participate remotely due to a personal emergency by providing a brief description of 20 words or less describing the circumstances. The trustee is not required to disclose any personal medical information.

A board member may not appear remotely for a personal emergency for more than 20 percent of the board’s regular meetings or for more than three consecutive months. If the board meets less than 10 times in a calendar year, a board member may not appear remotely for a personal emergency for more than two meetings.

Establishing just cause
Just cause may exist if: (1) a child care or caregiving need of a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or domestic partner requires a board member to participate remotely; (2) a contagious illness prevents a board member from attending in person; (3) a board member has a need related to a physical or mental disability not otherwise reasonably accommodated; or (4) a board member is traveling on official business of the board or another state or local agency.

When a trustee participates remotely for just cause, the member must notify the board at the earliest opportunity, including as late as the start of the meeting.

A board member is permitted to appear remotely for “just cause” no more than twice a year.

Updating policies
AB 2449 made significant changes to the Brown Act, specifically Government Code 54953, which governs teleconference meetings, and increases board members’ flexibility to attend meetings via teleconference. CSBA recently revised sample Board Bylaw 9320 – Meetings and Notices to reflect these changes, making now a great time for districts and COEs to review and update their board bylaw on this topic.