Senate Bill 554 of 2021 amends the Sunshine Act to include an agenda requirement. The changes take effect August 29, 2021. For further information, you can view this video and contact our office for additional guidance.
For comprehensive information on the Sunshine Act, visit our page here.
The OOR has been receiving inquiries about the specificity of listed agenda items. In response we have updated our Sunshine Act FAQ page with the following:
How specific should agenda items be to conform with the new Sunshine Act requirements?
Until the courts weigh in further, Senate Bill 554 combined with existing Sunshine Act-related case law provides some initial perspective and guidance. What is often referred to as the “Reading Eagle Case”, cited below, addresses the specificity of an agenda used by the agency when announcing the reasons for entering into Executive Sessions. Perhaps the best reference is the words of the Commonwealth Court, which, in its ruling, cited language from a similar decision from the Supreme Court of Mississippi (highlighting added):
“The reason given, of course, must be meaningful. It must be more than some generalized term which in reality tells the public nothing. To simply say "personnel matters" or "litigation" tells nothing. The reason stated must be of sufficient specificity to inform those present that there is, in reality, a specific, discrete matter or area which the board had determined should be discussed in executive session. . . . When a board chairman tells a citizen he may not hear the board discuss certain business, he is taking liberties with the rights of that citizen, and the reason given for this interference must be genuine and meaningful, and one the citizen can understand. To permit generalized fluff would frustrate the very purpose of the Act.”
Reading Eagle Co. v. Council, 156 Pa. Commw. 412, 416-17 (Pa. Cmmw. Ct. 1993)
It is advisable to use the same standard for agendas, whereby the description of the agenda item must be “of sufficient specificity to inform…that there is, in reality, a specific, discrete matter or area which the board has determined should be discussed (deliberated and/or decided by official action).” In sum, avoid general cryptic terms and provide as many specific concrete details as possible.