May 24, 2000


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


I have received your letter of April 16 in which you raised a question relating to the
Open Meetings Law.

According to your letter, the Board of Trustees of the Smithtown Library scheduled a
meeting for April 11 at 7 p.m. to discuss the adoption of a resolution involving a capital
proposition, and notice relating to that meeting was given as required by the Open Meetings
Law. Briefings on the matter were scheduled for the morning and afternoon of that day to
provide the news media with an opportunity to raise questions and acquire background
information concerning the proposal. No public notice of the briefings was given. Two
members of the Board participated in the morning session. Although only the Board chair,
who did not attend the morning session, was to participate in the afternoon session, the two
who attended the morning session decided to stay for the afternoon session as well. When a
reporter saw that three trustees were present during the afternoon session, "he refused to
participate unless one of them left, claiming that quorum of the board was present and
therefore the briefing constituted a ‘public meeting' and was in violation of the Open
Meetings Law." One of the trustees left the room, and the issue was resolved. You asked,
however, whether the gathering would have been subject to the Open Meetings Law had
three trustees been present.

In this regard, §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, I do not
believe that the Open Meetings Law would be applicable.

As I understand the situation, there was no intent that a majority of the Board should be present at either of the briefings. Further, it does not appear that the function of the briefings involved the Board engaging in conducting public business, collectively, as a body. If that is so, the gathering, in my view, would not have constituted a "meeting".

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 some assistance. Should any further questions arise, please feel free to contact me.



Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director