dering meaningless the statute’s prohibition on secret meetings. Indeed, if
left unchecked, a ruling that left telephone conference calls outside the
reach of open meeting statutes would merely move the “smoke-filled
room” that open meeting statutes were designed to eliminate from a den or
back room to the phone wires, with members able to conduct precisely the
type of secret, unverifiable meetings by telephone that are clearly prohib-
ited in person.
Not surprisingly, the Virginia General Assembly recognized the grave
threat posed to open meeting statutes by the Roanoke City decision and
swiftly amended the Virginia Freedom of Information Act so that the defi-
nition of “meeting” included telephonic conference calls among three or
more members of a public body.
The same scenario repeated itself a dec-
ade later in Kansas, as the Kansas Supreme Court, adopting the reasoning
of Roanoke City, held that the Kansas Open Meetings Act did not prohibit
group conference calls,
with the Kansas legislature quickly intervening to
make explicit that an illegal meeting could occur by conference call.
As a matter of policy, once a state legislature has decided to prohibit
informal meetings, it necessarily follows that having the same type of in-
teraction by telephone conference call should be prohibited as well. Oth-
erwise, the prohibition of closed informal meetings is meaningless. For that
reason, in states where the legality of telephone conferences has arisen as
an issue, the end result generally has been that a telephone conference is
subject to the same restrictions as a face-to-face conference. Such states
have reached this common-sense result either through courts construing the
state’s open meeting statute to include telephone conferences within the
definition of “meeting,”
or by the state legislature stepping in explicitly
79 See 1984 Va. Acts Ch. 252 (codified as amended at V
. § 2.2-3701 (Michie Supp.
See State ex rel. Stephan v. Bd. of County Comm’rs, 866 P.2d 1024, 1028 (Kan. 1994) (“Tele-
phone calls are not included in KOMA. The legislature recognized this fact in 1977 and declined to
include them. If they are to be included, it is up to the legislature to do so.”).
. § 75-4317(a) (2004) (defining “meeting” to include “any gathering,
assembly, telephone call or any other means of interactive communication” by a majority of a quorum
of a public body); Del Papa v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. & Comty. Coll. Sys., 956 P.2d 770, 777 n.6
(Nev. 1998) (noting that the Kansas legislature amended the definition of “meeting” in response to the
Stephan decision); Theresa M. Nuckolls, Kansas Sunshine Law; How Bright Does It Shine Now? The
Kansas Open Meetings Act (Part II—KOMA), 72:6 J. K
34, 37 (July 2003) (“The
Kansas Legislature reacted to [Stephan] by deleting the requirement of prearrangement and adding to
the definition [of ‘meeting’] any “telephone call or any other means of interactive communication.”).
See, e.g., Claxton Enter. v. Evans County Bd. of Comm’rs, 549 S.E.2d 830, 835 (Ga. Ct. App.
2001) (“Thus, a ‘meeting,’ within the definition of the Act, may be conducted by written, telephonic,
electronic, wireless, or other virtual means.”); Del Papa, 956 P.2d at 776 (holding that the legislature’s
failure to override the state Attorney General’s Opinion was evidence of the legislature's intent to
preserve the interpretation that voting by telephone to make a public decision violates the Open Meet-