April 1, 2003
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.
I have received your letter of March 17 and the materials attached to it. According to the
correspondence, you arrived at a meeting of the Board of Education of the Sewanhaka Central High School District on March 11 at 7:30 p.m. and found that the meeting was already in progress. During a break, you asked whether you could address the Board concerning a matter of policy, but you were informed by the President that "the Board had already voted prior to 7:00 p.m. and that the Board approved the policy." You wrote that you thought that you "must have gotten the time of the meeting wrong", but you checked further and attached a newspaper article and an agenda, both of which confirmed your belief that the meeting was scheduled to begin at 7:30.
You expressed the understanding "that the Board's vote on this policy issue prior to the
published time of 7:30 p.m. is inconsistent with the Open Meetings Law", and you have sought my opinion on the matter.
From my perspective, the Board failed to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
In this regard, if notice was given indicating that the meeting would begin at 7:30 p.m., the
Board should have waited until that time to begin conducting its business. Alternatively, if there was a need to convene earlier than the time specified in the original notice, I believe that the Board should have given additional notices to the news media and at the location where notice is posted to reflect the actual time when the meeting would begin. If no notice was given of the actual time that the meeting convened, it would appear that the meeting was held, in effect, in private. When action is taken in private in violation of the Open Meetings Law, a court is authorized to invalidate such action pursuant to §107 of that statute.
Section 104 of the Open Meetings Law pertains to notice of meetings and requires that every meeting be preceded by notice given to the news media and posted. That provision states 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. Therefore, 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.
In an effort to enhance compliance with and understanding of the Open Meetings Law, copies of this opinion will be sent to District officials.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Board of Education