On June 30, Governor Wolf signed Senate Bill 554, which amended Pennsylvania’s open meeting law more commonly referred to as the Sunshine Act. The amendment places new requirements on municipalities for providing notice of business to be conducted at meetings and limits action on business that was not included in that notice. What does that mean for developers who have business before those municipalities?
Senate Bill 554 generally amends the Sunshine Act (the “Act”) in two places. First, Section 709(D) of the Act is amended to address the notice that is required for business to be conducted at any municipal meeting (this would include governing bodies, planning commissions, zoning hearing boards, etc.). The municipal agency must post an agenda for the meeting on the municipality’s website at least twenty-four hours in advance of the scheduled start of the meeting. The agenda must list each matter of agency business that will be or may be subject of deliberation or official action at the meeting. The municipality must provide copies of the agenda at the meeting and post a copy at the municipal offices. This advance notice requirement does not apply to conferences, work sessions or executive sessions (where official action cannot be taken).
Senate Bill 554 also adds a new section – 712.1 – to the Act. This section, titled “Notification of Agency Business Required and Exceptions”, is the more impactful change to the Act and works in tandem with the notice requirement outlined above. Section 71.1 of the Act prohibits a municipal agency from taking official action on a matter of agency business at a meeting if that matter was not included in the posted notification (i.e., agenda). There are exceptions to this prohibition for matters such as (i) a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property; (ii) business arising within the twenty-fours preceding the meeting if that business is (a) de minimis in nature and (b) does not involve the expenditure of funds or entering into a contract or agreement; (iii) business arising during the meeting which the agency may refer to municipal staff for research and inclusion on a future agenda or may act on if that business is (a) de minimis in nature and (b) does not involve the expenditure of funds or entering into a contract or agreement. Finally, a majority of the municipal agency may vote during the meeting to amend the agenda at the meeting to take official action on something not included in the original agenda if the majority (a) announces the reason for the amendment and (b) the municipal website is updated the next business day after the meeting with a revised agenda to reflect the amendment.
So what does this mean for developers? At a minimum, developers and their consultants need to ensure that any matter they want action to be taken on is included on the posted agenda. They will need to ensure that in advance of the posting that must occur at least twenty-fours before the meeting. This should include any waivers or modifications during the subdivision and land development plan review process. Although the municipal agency can amend the agenda during the meeting, it remains to be seen how willing municipal agencies will be to employ that exception to the Act. For the time being, the Senate Bill 554 amendments to the Act like will make municipal agencies less agile. This is potentially problematic for developers who already have to wait for municipal meetings that often occur only once a month.
The purpose of the amendments to the Act (and the Act as a whole) is well placed, but will this unintentionally slow the pace of local government? Keep following this blog to see updates on how municipal agencies adjust to the amended Act.