Knowing the Waters – Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”)

By Frank Chmelik and Tim Schermetzler of CSD Attorneys at Law P.S. – WPPA Counsel

In 2022 there were changes to the Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”) addressing remote participation or observation by the public of commission meetings and the right of public comment at those meetings before a “final action” is taken.  This month we look at the long standing “best practice” of noticing a special public meeting when a majority of the commission attend the same function where port business may or will be discussed such as a meeting with state or federal leaders, attendance at a local city council meeting or even attendance at a WPPA meeting.

As we all know, whenever a majority of the commission meets to transact business (called an “action” in the OPMA), it must be done in an open public meeting (except for executive sessions and discussions about union negotiations).  The OPMA defines  “action” broadly to include virtually every instance where the majority of the commission is involved in port business.  A good, but not perfect, test is that an “action” occurs when a majority of the commissioners receive per diem pay for the same event.  For example, a majority of a port’s commissioners visiting their congressional delegation in Washington D.C. to discuss port business would be an “action.”  Likewise, a majority of the port commission attending a WPPA event may be considered an “action.”  But note that the term “final action” is much more defined.  The statute narrowly defines “final action” as a “collective positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of a governing body when sitting as a body or entity, upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance.”

We port lawyers have also been concerned about unintentional or alleged violations of the OPMA when a majority of the commission attend meetings or conferences.  The “best practice” recommendation has always been to keep the public informed by publishing notice of a special meeting for these events along the lines of the following:

Special Meeting Notice.

A majority of the Port commission will be [attending the meeting of the City council on April 1, 2024] [the WPPA spring meeting on May 15-17, 2024] or [travelling to Olympia to meet with the Governor on June 1, 2024].  No final action will be taken.

We suppose a member of the public may show up and ask to attend; however, in the years this best practice has been around, we have never heard of such an occurrence.  If it did occur, then the situation would be addressed consistent with the OPMA and the advice of the port’s lawyer.  Since the 2012 amendments do not mandate remote participation and only require public comment before “final actions” this part of the amendments does not change the long standing “best practice.”

After such a meeting, be sure to prepare meeting minutes or at least have a commissioner report out in the next regular meeting about what generally transpired.  Remember the goal here is to keep the public fully informed and to carry on the work of the port.  Recognize that this is a “gray area” of the law.  We also recommend that you discuss this topic with your port attorney.

As always, please contact your port counsel with any questions regarding this topic. And, if you have a particular question for a Knowing the Waters, please email us at or