The ZBA must conduct both the public hearing and its deliberations in public. However, this does not necessarily preclude “work sessions,” or informal meetings that supplement the public hearing process. Many ZBAs have found work sessions productive and beneficial. If a ZBA decides to conduct work sessions, no more than one ZBA member should participate, though other ZBA members may attend as observers. The work session should include a Chapter 40B consultant or the municipal attor-ney (or both), key municipal staff, and representatives of other boards and commissions, along with the developer’s team. Work sessions should address technical issues only, e.g., engineering, traffic, and design. The ZBA member who participates in a work session should report on the discussions at the next public hearing.
If the ZBA is uncomfortable with the concept of a work session or if the municipal attorney recom-mends against it, another option is for the city or town’s professional staff and the ZBA’s consultant to meet with the developer and report the discussions to the ZBA at the next session of the public hear¬ing. Furthermore, work sessions can be (and often are) conducted as open meetings; they do not have to be a “closed door” activity. An important difference between a public hearing and a public meeting is that while both involve public notification requirements, a public meeting gives people the right to observe, but not necessarily the right to speak.
Municipal attorneys do not always agree about the appropriateness or legality of work sessions, or whether a work session constitutes a meeting under the Open Meeting Law. The ZBA should check with the city solicitor or town counsel before scheduling a work session.