June 13, 1997
Ms. Brenda L. Child
R.D. 1, Box 161
Angelica, NY 14709
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Ms. Child:
I have received your letter of May 14, which reached this office on May 27.
You have sought my views concerning the site of meetings held by the Angelica Town Board. According to your letter, for the past several months, the Board has held its meetings in a room "approximately 12' wide and 14' long", and the room is furnished with a desk, filing cabinets, a 6' by 3' table, chairs and a coat rack. Due to the small size of the room, few residents can attend the meeting in an area where the Board can be seen and heard; "the rest are forced to sit in the hall outside the room." You added that other sites have been used in the past to accommodate those who sought to attend meetings of the Board.
In this regard, although the Open Meetings Law does not specify where meetings must be held, §103(a) of the Law states in part that "Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public..." Further, the intent of the Open Meetings Law is clearly stated in §100 as follows:
"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of an able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it."
As such, the Open Meetings Law confers a right upon the public to attend and listen to the deliberations of public bodies and to observe the performance of public officials who serve on such bodies.
From my perspective, every provision of law, including the Open Meetings Law, should be implemented in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent. In my opinion, if it is known in advance of a meeting that a larger crowd is likely to attend than the usual meeting location will accommodate, and if a larger facility is available, it would be reasonable and consistent with the intent of the Law to hold the meeting in the larger facility. Conversely, assuming the same facts, I believe that it would be unreasonable to hold a meeting in a facility that would not accommodate those interested in attending.
In an effort to encourage compliance with the spirit of the law, a copy of this response will be forwarded to the Town Board.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Town Board