September 28, 2005
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
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.
As you are aware, I have received your letter. Please accept my apologies for the delay in response.
According to your letter, in the town in which you own property:
"The board of assessment review met in a private meeting room (the door was open) and the public was required to sit in the lobby until it was your turn to be heard. When I asked about sitting in the meeting I was told only when it was my turn. I have been attending assessment meetings in various town over the years and I was always under the impression that they were open to the public."
You asked whether your impression is correct.
In this regard, the Open Meetings Law is applicable to public bodies, and §102(2) defines the phrase "public body" 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."
In consideration of the foregoing, I believe that a board of assessment review is clearly a "public body" required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
As a general matter, meetings of public bodies must be conducted in public, unless there is a basis for entry into executive session when an exemption from the Open Meetings Law is pertinent. From my perspective, which is consistent with your understanding, the portion of the meeting of a board of assessment review during which those challenging their assessments are heard must be conducted open to the public. Following oral presentations, a board’s deliberations could be characterized as "quasi-judicial proceedings" that would be exempt from the Open Meetings Law pursuant to §108(1) of that statute. It is emphasized, however, that even when the deliberations of such a board may be outside the coverage of the Open Meetings Law, its vote and other matters would not be exempt. As stated in Orange County Publications v. City of Newburgh:
"there is a distinction between that portion of a meeting...wherein the members collectively weigh evidence taken during a public hearing, apply the law and reach a conclusion and that part of its proceedings in which its decision is announced, the vote of its members taken and all of its other regular business is conducted. The latter is clearly non-judicial and must be open to the public, while the former is indeed judicial in nature, as it affects the rights and liabilities of individuals" [60 AD 2d 409,418 (1978)].
Therefore, although an assessment board of review may deliberate in private, based upon the decision cited above, oral presentations before the board, as well as the act of voting or taking action must in my view occur during a meeting held open to the public.
Additionally, I note that both the Freedom of Information Law and the Open Meetings Law impose record-keeping requirements upon public bodies. With respect to minutes of open meetings, §106(1) of the Open Meetings Law states that:
"Minutes shall be taken at all open meetings of a public body which shall consist of a record or summary of all motions, proposals, resolutions and any other matter formally voted upon and the vote thereon."
The minutes are not required to indicate how the Board reached its conclusion; however, I believe that the conclusion itself, i.e., a motion or resolution, must be included in minutes. I note, too, that
since its enactment, the Freedom of Information Law has contained a related requirement in §87(3). The provision states in part that:
"Each agency shall maintain:
(a) a record of the final vote of each member in every agency proceeding in which the member votes..."
In short, because an assessment board of review is a "public body" and an "agency", I believe that it is required to prepare minutes in accordance with §106 of the Open Meetings Law, including a record of the votes of each member in conjunction with §87(3)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law. The minutes that you enclosed do indicate how the Board members voted.
Lastly, I point out that §525(2)(a) of the Real Property Tax Law entitled "Hearing and determination of complaints" states in part that:
"The assessor shall have the right to be heard on any complaint and upon his request his or her remarks with respect to any complaint shall be recorded in the minutes of the board. Such remarks may be made only in open and public session of the board of assessment review."
Based on the foregoing, insofar as the assessor is present for the purpose of offering information or a point of view, I believe that the public, pursuant to the Real Property Tax Law, has the right to be present.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
cc: Board of Assessment Review