Ms. Barbara Sweet,
Adirondack Park Agency
Newcomb, NY 12852
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 Commissioner Sweet:
I have received your letter of March 24. You wrote that the Chairman of Adirondack Park Agency asked that you and I discuss the status of "a facilitated retreat" in relation to the Open Meetings Law.
You indicated that the "session is not intended to deal in any way with the business of the Agency, but rather to build upon our team building and communication skills". You added that the facilitator who would run the session "has assured [you] that his program...would in no way be inclusive of any Agency matters".
In this regard, as you are aware, the Open Meetings Law is applicable to meetings of public bodies. The governing body of the Adirondack Park Agency is clearly a public body. Section 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, training, or to develop or improve "team building and communication skills", I do not believe that the Open Meetings Law would be applicable.
In short, if the session is to be held solely for the purposes described in your letter, and if the members do not conduct or intend to conduct public 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 assistance. Should any further questions arise, please feel free to contact me.
Robert J. Freeman