October 13, 1999
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
I have received your letter of August 28 and the documentation attached to it.
You referred to policy #2360 of the Hicksville Union Free School District, which
states in part that "[t]he District Clerk will tape record the proceedings of all public meetings
of the Board of Education." You added that the Board has designated several standing
committees which hold meetings that have regularly been tape recorded but added that the
current Board "decided to discontinue taping the committee meetings because they do not
consider them to be regular public meetings."
You have raised a series of questions in relation to the foregoing, and in this regard, I offer the following comments.
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, the Open Meetings Law pertains to public bodies, and §102(2) defines the phrase "public meeting" to mean:
"...any entity for which a quorum is required in order to
conduct public business and which consists of two or more
members, performing a governmental function for the state or
for an agency or department thereof, or for a public corporation as defined in section sixty-six of the general construction law, or committee or subcommittee or other similar body of such public body.:
The last clause of the definition refers to any "committee or subcommittee or similar
body of [a] public body." Based on that language and judicial decisions, when a public body,
such as a board of education, creates or designates its own members to serve as a committee
or subcommittee, the committee or subcommittee would constitute a public body subject to
the requirements of the Open Meetings law. Therefore, committees of the Board consisting
solely of its own members would have the same obligations regarding notice and openness,
for example, as well as the same authority to conduct executive sessions as the governing
body [see Glens Falls Newspapers. Inc. v. Solid Waste and Recycling Committee of the
Warren County Board of Supervisors, 195 AD2d 898 (1993)]. If, for example, the Board of Education consists of seven members, a quorum of the Board would be four. If a standing committee consists of three members, because the committee is a public body separate and distinct from the Board, its quorum would be three.
Second, there is nothing in the Open Meetings Law or any other statute of which I am
aware that would require a public body to tape record its meetings. With respect to any
requirement that meetings of committees be tape recorded in accordance with Policy #2360, I note that the advisory jurisdiction of this office involves the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws; it does not extend to matters involving the interpretation of an agency's internal policies that do not fall within the scope of those statutes.
Lastly, if "a quorum, or more, of school board members attends a standing committee
meeting", you asked whether that meeting becomes a meeting of the Board of Education. As indicated earlier, a committee of a public body is itself a public body required to comply with the Open Meetings Law. If members of the Board attend committee meetings, and they attend, listen and observe in the same manner as others who might do so, their presence in my view would be as members of the public. In that circumstance, even if a majority of the Board attends, the presence of Board members who are not members of the committee conducting the meeting would not transform the gathering from a committee meeting to a meeting of the Board of Education.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Board of Education