In July 2020, NACD’s Board of Directors produced a statement on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which called for the formation of a DEI Task Force. The Task Force reviewed NACD’s internal governance and examined programs, policies and procedures. Conservation is important to all communities and to be effective, we must improve our reach into diverse communities and actively engage people and communities that are not normally reached or those who face additional barriers to access services.
The following is an excerpt on Open Meeting Laws from the Task Force’s final report:
Generally speaking, Open Meeting Law is a set of rules to ensure transparency in the deliberations where public policy is discussed. Each state sets its own rules and regulations that public boards must adhere to. As local units of government, conservation district officials are required to follow the guidelines set forth in their state regulations. Open Meeting Law covers topics such as meeting notification, executive session, remote participation, public participation, minutes, etc.
There are a variety of factors to be considered when examining if strict adherence to Open Meeting Law could in fact be limiting meeting access to some members of the local community.
Some of these factors include:
- Lack of outreach to underrepresented/underserved communities
- Lack of access to meetings (too far away, inability to access remotely, no phone conference/listening capabilities provided by conservation district)
- Required public notice represents a minimum bar for a conservation district to meet; it may not reach the broader, more diverse community present in a district
- Language – translation of announcements. Special accommodations – translation, interpretation, etc.
- Place announcements in locations underrepresented/underserved communities meet or congregate; visit in their language and provide information for special accommodations if needed
- Look for ways to meet remotely by using new technology, phone lines, etc. If no access to new technology, use newspapers or local media to share information
- State-specific training on local meeting law for a clear understanding of meeting notification, executive session, remote participation, public participation, minutes, etc.
- Develop materials such as public notice/announcements, agendas, materials presented at meeting, etc. in other languages to reach non-English-speaking producers/partners
To read the full report and toolkit visit NACD’s DEI webpage.