Lawyers e-Journal

Thursday, Jun. 3, 2010
Image for Public Law Conference
Top: Fourth Annual Public Law Conference Keynote Speaker Robert Nasdor, director of the Division of Open Government at the Office of the Attorney General in Boston.

Bottom: Left to right: Conference faculty Stephanie Zierten, Esq., deputy general counsel of the Massachusetts Information Technology Division in Boston and Jessica Weiss, Esq., project & social media coordinator of Mass.gov®, Massachusetts Information Technology Division in Boston.

Photos by Tricia Oliver.

Fourth Annual Public Law Conference discusses Open Meeting Law, social media in government

Attendees at the Massachusetts Bar Association's Fourth Annual Public Law Conference on June 2 learned about the ramifications of the commonwealth's changes to the Open Meeting Law and recommended boundaries for government agencies using social media.  

Conference Keynote Speaker Robert Nasdor, director of the Division of Open Government at the Office of the Attorney General in Boston, spoke about the Attorney General's Office's interpretation of the changes to the Open Meeting Law.

The new Open Meeting Law mandates that the chair of an official body post a publicly accessible meeting notice, along with a list of all reasonably anticipated topics, at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting. Conference attendees expressed concern regarding the specificity of the topics listed, as well as the difficulty of finding an acceptable public location for the notices. While Nasdor acknowledged that municipal officials may need clarification on changes to the Open Meeting Law, small adjustments can help municipalities meet the new requirements. Nasdor explained that officials should consider three factors to determine whether a body must adhere to the open meeting law:

  • The body's charge;
  • Whether the body is formally created; and
  • Whether it performs a public function.

Conference faculty Jessica Weiss, Esq. and Stephanie Zierten, Esq., both of the Massachusetts Information Technology Division in Boston, presented a session on "The Use of Social Media by Government Agencies." Zierten and Weiss reviewed what social media boundaries government officials should implement to avoid potential legal problems. For governmental agencies using social media, the biggest barriers include the Open Meeting Law, public records law and terms of use on certain Web sites.

Weiss and Zierten also cautioned conference attendees that employers should clearly list expectations regarding employees' use of social media.

"Every tweet is a public record," said Weiss. "Social media is a tool to achieve communications goals - but right now it's very unclear what the implications are."

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