As a staff person supporting advisory boards you have administrative duties that need to be accomplished to make sure that the advisory board members are acting within the scope of Oregon Public Meetings and Record laws, have enough information to be productive in meetings and understand the responsibility and liability that is associated with serving on a public body. Please review this section to ensure you understand these duties.
Legal Obligations of Advisory BoardsAs an advisory board member, it is important to remember that you have legal responsibilities as a:
Public Body:Advisory boards are considered "public bodies" under Oregon law. As a result, you must ensure that your board operates in compliance with the open meetings laws (ORS 192.610 et seq.). Oregon's open meetings laws essentially require three things: 1) Notice must be provided for all meetings, 2) Meetings must be open to the public, and 3) Minutes must be created for each meeting. A "meeting" is defined as including not only formal gatherings of the board but also any occasion where a "quorum" (usually majority) of the board members come together and deliberate on board issues. This definition also applies where board subcommittees are concerned. Therefore, if three members of a five-member board subcommittee come together and begin to discuss board matters, the open meetings laws must be complied with. This is true whether you are in a social setting or in a formal meeting. It is important to be aware of this fact when you find yourself with other board members, whatever the situation.
Public Officials:Advisory board members are considered "public” officials and must act consistently with Oregon's ethics laws (ORS 244.010 et seq.) Oregon's ethics laws prohibit:Any public official from gaining financially as a result of his or her position regardless if it is salaried or not, andPublic officials must declare any conflicts of interest at a public meeting.A conflict exists if a decision or recommendation potentially could affect the finances of the board member or the finances of a family member. If a conflict exists, the board member must declare this fact at a meeting where the issue is discussed and may need to refrain from discussing or voting on the matter. The laws surrounding conflicts of interest are confusing but also contain exemptions that may apply. If you are unsure whether a conflict exists, you should contact the staff person assisting your advisory board or call Marion County Legal Counsel at (503) 588-5220 to discuss the matter.
Claims of Meetings Law Violation:Most claims that the open meetings laws have been violated will be made against the public body itself. However, claims may be brought against the individual public officials (in this case volunteer board members): public officials may be sued personally for public meetings violations and complaints may also be registered with the Government Standards and Practices Commission (GSPC) and investigated. In most of these circumstances, the county should be able to represent or act in defense of a public official who has acted in good faith. However, if it appears that a public official has intentionally acted outside the law, the county will not assist with defense.
Resources for Information:The open meetings laws and the ethics laws assure that Oregon's system of government operates properly. Fortunately, it is not difficult to comply with these laws. The first step is knowing what is required. If you ever have any questions, please contact the county volunteer coordinator, your staff person or Marion County Legal Counsel. Any of these contacts can assist you with information and answers to your questions while you focus on the important service you are providing to the county.
Marion County is a local public body and is subject to legal action and suit for the torts of its officers, employees and agents, including volunteers (Oregon Tort Claims Act, Oregon Revised Statutes 30.260 - 30.302). A tort is any breach of a legal duty which results in injury to a specific person or persons for which the law provides a remedy. "Injury" can include such things as financial loss, damage to reputation or emotional injury as well as physical injury. According to the Act, the action or suit is brought only against the county, not against the individual volunteer. The volunteer, upon written request, is entitled to indemnification (protection from the cost of any judgment) and legal defense for any tort committed while in the performance of the volunteer's duties. This is true unless the act or omission complained of amounted to malfeasance in office, willful or wanton neglect of duty, or criminal activity.