March 17, 1998
Mr. Rodney Bordeaux
89 South 29 Street
Wyandanch, NY 11798
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
Dear Mr. Bordeaux:
I have received your undated letter, which reached this office on March 3.
You referred to a meeting of the Wyandanch Public Library Board of Trustees held
on January 21. According to your letter, during the meeting, one of the members submitted
a letter of resignation. You added that an "absent board member...accepted her letter by
proxy and also moved to appoint" a new member "by proxy." You have sought an opinion
concerning the matter.
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, it is clear that a library board of trustees is required to comply with the Open
Meetings Law (see Education Law, §260-a).
Second, §102(1) of the Open Meetings Law defines the term "meeting" to mean "the
official convening of a public body for the purpose of conducting public business". Based
upon an ordinary dictionary definition of "convene", that term means:
"1. to summon before a tribunal;
2. to cause to assemble syn see 'SUMMON'" (Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, Copyright 1965).
In view of that definition and others, I believe that a meeting, i.e., the "convening" of a public
body, involves the physical coming together of at least a majority of the total membership of
the Board of Trustees. While nothing in the Open Meetings Law refers to the capacity of a
member to delegate his or her authority or to vote by means of a proxy, it has consistently
been advised that a member of a public body cannot participate unless he or she is physically present at a meeting of the body.
Similarly, I believe that the absence of a member from a meeting, a physical convening
of a majority of a public body's membership, precludes that person from voting, for the absent person is not part of the "convening."
In short, I do not believe that a member of a public body can introduce a motion or
cast a vote unless the member is physically present at a meeting of the body.
As you requested and in an effort to enhance compliance with and understanding of
the Open Meetings, copies of this opinion will be forwarded to officials of the Library.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Board of Trustees
Wendell Cherry, Director