June 2, 2006
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
We are in receipt of your May 22, 2006 email request for an advisory opinion concerning the “weight and value” of minutes prepared during the normal course of business for the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Central School District. Although we have neither the jurisdiction nor the expertise to advise with respect to the evidentiary value or probative weight of the minutes, we offer the following remarks concerning the provisions in the Open Meetings Law relating to minutes.
First, §106 of the Open Meetings Law pertains to minutes of meetings and states that:
"1. Minutes shall be taken at all open meetings of a public body which shall consist of a record or summary of all motions, proposals, resolutions and any other matter formally voted upon and the vote thereon.
2. Minutes shall be taken at executive sessions of any action that is taken by formal vote which shall consist of a record or summary of the final determination of such action, and the date and vote thereon; provided, however, that such summary need not include any matter which is not required to be made public by the freedom of information law as added by article six of this chapter.
3. Minutes of meetings of all public bodies shall be available to the public in accordance with the provisions of the freedom of information law within two weeks from the date of such meetings except that minutes taken pursuant to subdivision two hereof shall be available to the public within one week from the date of the executive session."
The provisions quoted above indicate that minutes need not consist of a verbatim of account of all that is stated a meeting. It is also clear that minutes must be prepared and made available to the public “within two weeks of the date of such meeting.” We note, too, that there is nothing in the Open Meetings Law or any other statute of which we are aware that requires that minutes be approved. Nevertheless, as a matter of practice or policy, many public bodies approve minutes of their meetings. In the event that minutes have not been approved. In our experience, minutes are among the most public and readily accessible records maintained by local governments. In many instances, they are routinely and informally made available without any written or formal request. While there is no requirement that minutes be placed on a municipality’s website, either in their “official” or summary form, local governments often do so, again, because minutes are unquestionably public.
Second, inherent in the law is that the minutes must be accurate and reflect the reality of what occurred or was expressed. In our view, only a public body, by means of a majority vote of its total membership, may amend or correct minutes.
Lastly, §4518 of the Civil Procedure Law and Rules states in relevant part:
“(a) Generally. Any writing or record, whether in the form of an entry in a book or otherwise, made as a memorandum or record of any act, transaction, occurrence or event, shall be admissible in evidence in proof of that act, transaction, occurrence or event, if the judge finds that it was made in the regular course of any business and that it was the regular course of such business to make it, at the time of the act, transaction, occurrence or event, or within a reasonable time thereafter....
All other circumstances of the making of the memorandum or record, including lack of personal knowledge by the maker, may be proved to affect its weight, but they shall not affect its admissibility. The term business includes a business, profession, occupation and calling of every kind....
(c) Other records. All records, writings and other things referred to in sections 2306 and 2307 are admissible in evidence under this rule and are prima facie evidence of the facts contained, provided they bear a certification or authentication by the head of the hospital, laboratory, department or bureau of a municipal corporation or of the state, or by an employee delegated for that purpose or by a qualified physician. (Emphasis added.)”
Accordingly, minutes prepared by a school district in the ordinary course of business would appear to be prima facie evidence of the facts contained therein.
On behalf of the Committee on Open Government, we hope this is helpful to you.
Camille S. Jobin-Davis