Mr. David Baker
The Rensselaer Beacon
28 Washington Street
Rensselaer, NY 12144
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. Baker:
I have received your communication of July 29, which reached this office on July 31. You have sought an opinion concerning the circumstances described in your memorandum of July 27.
In brief, earlier in the month, the City of Rensselaer Common Council held a meeting to consider the adoption of the budget for the fiscal year beginning on August 1. During that meeting, the Council voted to table two resolutions to adopt the budget. You wrote that: "The council president then recessed - rather the [sic] adjourned - the meeting until Friday evening, saying that recessing the meeting removed the obligation to give notice of the Friday meeting to the public or press, and that gave her the right to call the council back into session at any time without notice." The Council could not reach an accord at the Friday meeting, the meeting was recessed until Monday, and, again, no notice given to the media, except, you noted, to you, for you were present.
You have questioned the positions taken by City officials. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, the Open Meetings Law makes no specific reference to a recess or even adjournment. However, in my view, every law, including the Open Meetings Law, must be implemented in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent. Section 100 of that statute reflects the intent of the State Legislature and states in relevant part 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 decision 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."
From my perspective, one of the basic principles inherent in the Open Meetings Law involves the public's right to know when and where meetings of public bodies will be held. When a meeting held on a given day is concluded, whether by means of the term "recess" or "adjournment", and the public body will not meet again until some day in the future, I believe that it must provide notice, and that the ensuing gathering constitutes a new meeting. Absent notice given in that circumstance, the public may have no way of knowing of the existence of a meeting, and the purposes of the law would be thwarted.
Second, the Open Meetings Law requires that notice be posted and given to the news media prior to every meeting of a public body, such as a board of education. Specifically, §104 of that statute provides that: "1. Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before each meeting.
2. Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be given, to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a reasonable time prior thereto.
3. The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to require publication as a legal notice."
Stated differently, if a meeting is scheduled at least a week in advance, notice of the time and place must be given to the news media and to the public by means of posting in one or more designated public locations, not less than seventy-two hours prior to the meeting. If a meeting is scheduled less than a week an advance, again, notice of the time and place must be given to the news media and posted in the same manner as described above, "to the extent practicable", at a reasonable time prior to the meeting. Although the Open Meetings Law does not make reference to "special" or "emergency" meetings, if, for example, there is a need to convene quickly, the notice requirements can generally be met by telephoning the local news media and by posting notice in one or more designated locations.
If it is known that you are a member of the news media, and if notice of the time and place of an upcoming meeting is announced during a meeting in which you are in attendance, I believe that the portion of the notice requirements that the news media be given notice would be satisfied. However, notice must also be posted, and I believe that a public body must designate, presumably by resolution, the location or locations where it will routinely post notice of meetings. You also asked whether, during a special meeting, a public body is limited in what it may consider. The Open Meetings Law imposes no such restriction, and any limitation would only exist by means of a public body's rules or local enactment.
Finally, you questioned whether there may be a requirement that the City conduct a public hearing concerning its proposed budget. That issue does not deal with the laws within the Committee's advisory jurisdiction, and I regret that I cannot offer a response.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Common Council