Note: This page covers information specific to Arizona. For general information concerning access to government meetings see the Access to Government Meetings section of this guide.
You can attend any meeting of any public body, with certain exceptions, pursuant to Ariz. Rev. Stat. §§ 38-431 to 38-431.09, although you do not have a right to participate in the meeting. Public bodies must give notice of any meeting to the public at least 24 hours beforehand.
What Meetings are Covered?
What Government Bodies Are Covered?
Under Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38-431, a public body includes any legislature, commission of the state or a political subdivision, any agency, any corporation whose board is selected by the state, and all advisory committees.
The following bodies/proceedings are excluded under Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38-431.08:
- Court proceedings (although you might have a right to attend)
- Any political caucus of the legislature
- Conference committees of the legislature, except that they must be open to the public
- Commissions on appellate and trial court appointments
- Commission on judicial qualifications
- The board of fingerprinting, if for any good cause exception as determined pursuant to § 41-619.55.
Also, public bodies are now required to post the public meetings law on their web site and all elected officials must attend open meetings training before taking office, so if you have any questions about whether a meeting is open you should be able to consult with the public body's office.
You can also attend meetings by the board of executive clemency of any prison facility, except that the director of the state department of corrections may:
- Prohibit, after written findings, anyone to attend who would pose serious threat to the life or physical safety of anyone present
- Require attendees to sign an attendance log
- Prohibit any articles from being taken into the meeting room except for recording devices
- Force attendees to submit to reasonable searches
What is a Meeting?
A meeting is any gathering, be it in person or through electronic means, of a quorum of the public body when they discuss, propose or take "legal action." Under § 10-3722, each agency defines for itself what makes a quorum, so check with the agency if you want to know how many people must be present.
"Legal action" is defined as any "collective decision, commitment or promise made by a public body pursuant to the constitution, the public body's charter, bylaws or specified scope of appointment and the laws of this state."
What Are Your Rights?
You do not necessary have a right to speak at a meeting, unless the public body makes an open call to allow individuals to address the body. If they do so, they cannot discuss or take any legal action unless they have given proper notice beforehand.
Under Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38-431.02, public bodies must post notice of any meetings on their website at least 24 hours before the meeting, unless there is an actual emergency. If so, they must use whatever notice is reasonable in the circumstances and the body must post notice that a meeting took place with 24 hours after the meeting was held. If the body plans to meet on a regular date, it may post the notice at the beginning of the calendar period.
If the public body is a school district governing board, it must provide notice of the agenda at least seven days before the meeting, unless there is an actual emergency. An actual emergency for a school board is anything that "seriously threatens the functioning of the school" or the school property or school safety.
Notice includes an agenda of the specific matters to be discussed or decided, and the public body may only discuss the matters it lists. The statute does not explicitly require the posting of the time, place or date of the meeting in the notice. However, in Cooper v. Arizona Western College District Governing Board, 610 P.2d 465 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1980), the Arizona Court of Appeals interpreted the statute to require posting of the time and place of any separate meeting or continuation of any meeting, as is reasonable in the circumstances. In Ahnert v. Sunnyside Unified School District #12, 616 P.2d 933 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1980), the Court held that a notice that said a public meeting would reconvene "if necessary" was insufficient. Therefore, a public body should at the minimum notify the public of the time and place of a meeting, even though the statute doesn't explicitly require them to do so.
Minutes, Recordings, and DocumentsAll public bodies must either take written minutes or record meetings, including executive sessions. If not meeting in executive session, the minutes must at least include:
- The date, time and place
- The members who were present OR absent
- A general description of what was discussed/considered
- All legal actions proposed, discussed or taken
If a city has more than 2,500 people, then: (1) public bodies either a statement of what they decided at the meeting or a recording of the meeting through the agency's web site; and (2) within two days after the minutes are approved, public bodies must also post minutes on their web sites. If the public body is a subcommittee, it still has to post either a statement or a recording, but has 10 days rather than 2.
Under § 38-431.01, you may record any part of a public meeting through "tape recorder or camera or any other means of sonic reproduction," so long as you don't interfere with the meeting.
An Exception: Executive session
Pursuant to § 38-431.03, you don't have a right to attend a meeting while the body is discussing any of the following:
- Employment, assignment, or appointment of an employee, unless the employee demands it be public
- Promotion, demotions, dismissal, disciplinary action or resignation of an employee, unless the employee demands it be public
- Any discussions or considerations of records that the law exempts from public inspection
- Consultations for legal advice
- Consultation with attorneys regarding contracts
- Consultations with designated representatives regarding salaries, salary schedules or compensation
- International or interstate negotiations
- Negotiations for the purchase, sale, or lease of real property
What Are Your Remedies If You Are Denied Access?If a public body is noncompliant, you may file a lawsuit seeking a "writ of mandamus"—a writ the court issues forcing the agency to do something— to force them to open the meeting to the public.
If the meeting was held in violation of the public meetings law, any business that was transacted will be declared null and void. You may also be awarded a sum to pay attorney fees. Under § 38-431.07, the court may, if it determines that the public officer intended to deprive the public of information, remove the officer and may order him or her to give you an amount to pay your costs and attorney fees. You must bring any action against an officer within one year of being denied access, pursuant to § 12-821.
You may also send a written complaint to the attorney general or county attorney. If he or she finds a violation, the court may impose a civil penalty up to $500, which the agency must pay to the general fund.