July 26, 1999
Mayor Michael H. McLaughlin
Mayor of Scotia
4 North Ten Broeck Street
Scotia, NY 12302-2287
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 Mayor McLaughlin:
I have received your letter of June 18 in which you referred to questions concerning
the legality of a meeting held on May 26. The meeting was attended by officials of the Village of Scotia, the Metroplex Authority, the Scotia Business Improvement District (BID) and others.
According to the notes attached to your letter, you asked the President of the (BID)
to invite other BID members, invited the Village Planner and Building Inspector to attend and "mentioned meeting to two trustees", and you notified the Metroplex members from Scotia and Glenville of the gathering. The meeting was held in Village Hall, and the Metroplex Chair, the BID President and yourself sat at the "front table"; the "rest [were] in general audience." Your notes state that "approx. 15-17 people total in audience including 2 trustees and many persons active in Village politics (from both major parties); nobody was denied access." Following a short presentation by the Metroplex Chair, "the floor was open to questions from anyone present." You added that "[t]he Mayor and two trustees were there to listen and each acted independently", that "[t]here were no Village actions taken" and that "[t]here was no consultation among the three other than to say good-bye at the end."
Based on your description of the gathering, it was not a "meeting", and the Open Meetings Law would not have applied. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
The Open Meetings Law pertains to meetings of public bodies, and §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". It is emphasized that the definition of "meeting" has been broadly interpreted by the courts. In a landmark decision rendered in
1978, the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, found that any gathering of a quorum
of a public body for the purpose of conducting public business is a "meeting" that must be
convened open to the public, whether or not there is an intent to take action and regardless
of the manner in which a gathering may be characterized [see Orange County Publications v. Council of the City of Newburgh, 60 AD 2d 409, aff'd 45 NY 2d 947 (1978)].
Inherent in the definition and its judicial interpretation is the notion of intent. If there
is an intent that a majority of a public body convene for the purpose of conducting public
business, such a gathering would, in my opinion, constitute a meeting subject to the
requirements of the Open Meetings Law. However, if there is no intent that a majority of
public body will gather for purpose of conducting public business, collectively, as a body, but rather for the purpose of gaining education, training, or to listen to speakers as part of an audience or group, I do not believe that the Open Meetings Law would be applicable.
I point out that similar questions have arisen at workshops and seminars during which I have spoken and which were attended by many, including perhaps a majority of the membership of several public bodies. Some of those persons have asked whether their presence at those gatherings fell within the scope of the Open Meetings Law. In brief, I have responded that, since the members of those entities did not attend for the purpose of conducting public business as a body, the Open Meetings Law, in my opinion, did not apply.
It would appear that the same conclusion could be reached with respect to the matter that you described.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman