November 17, 1994
Mr. Stewart S. Lilker
302 Guy Lombardo Avenue
Freeport, NY 11520
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 Mr. Lilker:
I have received your letter of October 19 and related materials. You have sought an advisory opinion concerning your right to obtain copies of minutes of meetings of the Freeport School District Board of Education prior to their "acceptance" by the Board.
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, when records are accessible under the Freedom of Information Law, they must be made available for inspection and copying. Further, §89(3) of that statute requires that an agency prepare copies of accessible records on request upon payment of the appropriate fee.
Second, §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."
In view of the foregoing, it is clear in my opinion that minutes of open meetings must be prepared and made available "within two weeks of the date of such meeting."
There is nothing in the Open Meetings Law or any other statute of which I am 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 been approved, to comply with the Open Meetings Law, it has consistently been advised that minutes be prepared and made available within two weeks, and that if the minutes have not been approved, they may be marked "unapproved", "draft" or "non-final", for example. By so doing within the requisite time limitations, the public can generally know what transpired at a meeting; concurrently, the public is effectively notified that the minutes are subject to change. If minutes have been prepared within less than two weeks, I believe that those unapproved minutes would be available as soon as they exist, and that they may be marked in the manner described above.
Lastly, viewing the issue from a different vantage point, the Freedom of Information Law makes no distinction between drafts as opposed to "final" documents. The Law pertains to all agency records, and §86(4) defines the term "record" to mean:
"any information kept, held, filed, produced, reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes."
Due to the breadth of the language quoted above, once a document exists, it constitutes a "record" subject to rights of access, even if the record is characterized as "draft" or is unapproved. Further, as a general matter, minutes consist of a factual rendition of what transpired at an open meeting. On that basis, I believe that they are accessible [see Freedom of Information Law, section 87(2)(g)(i)]. Further, minutes often reflect final agency determinations, which are available under section 87(2)(g)(iii), irrespective of whether minutes are "approved". Additionally, in the case of an open meeting, during which the public may be present and, in fact, may tape record the meeting [see Mitchell v. Board of Education of the Garden City Union Free School District, 113 AD 2d 924 (1985)], there would appear to be no valid basis for withholding minutes, whether or not they have been approved.
I hope that I have been of some assistance. Should any further questions arise, please feel free to contact me.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Richard Bonen, Superintendent
Donna Cantwell, District Clerk
Board of Education
Board of Education