July 7, 1993
Ms. Patricia C. Tocatlian
Route 2 Box 132
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
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 Ms. Tocatlian:
I have received your letter of June 23 in which you requested an advisory opinion concerning the Open Meetings Law.
According to your letter:
"The Morristown School Board has held several board meetings at which the board members spoke so quietly members of the audience were unable to hear their deliberations. This behavior went on for long portions of the meeting and was not accidental as members of the audience cried out to them to, 'speak up' over and over again."
In this regard, with respect to the capacity to hear what is said at meetings, I direct your attention to §100 of the Open Meetings Law, its legislative declaration. That provision states that:
"It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it."
Based upon the foregoing, it is clear in my view that public bodies must conduct meetings in a manner that guarantees the public the ability to "be fully aware of" and "listen to" the deliberative process. Further, I believe that every statute, including the Open Meetings Law, must be implemented in a manner that gives effect to its intent. In this instance, the Board must in my view situate itself and conduct its meetings in a manner in which those in attendance can observe and hear the proceedings. To do otherwise would in my opinion be unreasonable and fail to comply with a basis requirement of the Open Meetings Law.
In an effort to enhance compliance with and understanding of the Open Meetings Law, a copy of this opinion will be forwarded to the Board.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Board of Education