Mr. Frank Munoz, Executive Coordinator
State Boards for the Professions
NYS Education Department
Albany, N.Y. 12230
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.
Dear Mr. Munoz:
I have received your letter of April 29. You referred to a letter of April 5 prepared by at the request of Norman Cohen, Acting Executive Secretary for the New York Boards for Chiropractic and Social Work. You asked that I confirm that the same principles and opinion would be applicable to the facts that you have described.
Specifically, you wrote that the State Board for Nursing holds an annual "Education Day", which is not an official meeting of the Board, for "no votes or other official or public business is conducted on that day." Rather, you indicated that attendance is optional, and that no quorum is required. Further, the structure for Education Day involves discussion and training, based upon hypothetical cases, concerning procedures relating to investigation, prosecution and hearing disciplinary and licensure cases. You added that "Education Day" is viewed and conducted as a training/orientation seminar for new and old Board members, and that the goal is primarily educational.
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, as a body, but rather for the purpose of gaining education and training, I do not believe that the Open Meetings Law would be applicable.
In short, if "Education Day" is to be held solely for the purpose of educating and training Board members, and if the members do not conduct Board business collectively as a body, the activities occurring during that event would not in my view constitute a meeting of a public body subject to the Open Meetings Law.
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