OML-AO-4633 May 21, 2008
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 information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you raised issues involving the Village of Saugerties pertaining “to Open Meetings Laws and general governance laws.”
In this regard, I point out that the advisory jurisdiction of the Committee on Open Government in the context of the issues raised relates to the Open Meetings Law. Specific guidance cannot be offered concerning “general governance laws.” Since several of the issues raised relate to the authority of the Mayor, it is suggested that you review §4-400 of the Village Law, which describes the powers and duties of a mayor of a village.
Insofar as the issues that you raised relate to the Open Meetings Law, I offer the following comments.
First, §104 the Open Meetings Law requires that every meeting of a public body, such as a village board of trustees, must be preceded by notice given to the news media and to the public by means of posting. However, the requirement merely involves notice indicating the time and place of a meeting. There is no obligation imposed by the Open Meetings Law concerning the subject or subjects to be considered during a meeting.
Similarly, the Open Meetings Law includes no reference to agendas. A public body may choose to prepare an agenda, but it is not required to do so. Further, if an agenda is prepared, unless a public body has adopted a rule to the contrary, there is no obligation to abide by the agenda.
Next, in instances in which action may be taken only by a board of trustees, and not by a mayor acting unilaterally, the action may be taken only at a meeting held in accordance with the Open Meetings Law. In those cases, action is valid only pursuant to a vote approved by an affirmative vote of a majority of the total membership of the board (see General Construction Law, §41).
Lastly, §105(1) of the Open Meetings Law permits a public body to conduct an executive session for reasons specified in paragraphs (a) through (h) of that provision. To do so, a motion must be made during an open meeting, indicating the subject or subjects to be discussed, and the motion must be carried by a majority vote of the total membership of a public body. Therefore, a public body may choose to conduct executive sessions in appropriate circumstances, but it is not required to do so.
One of the grounds for entry into executive session authorizes a public body to conduct a closed session to discuss or engage in collective bargaining negotiations with a public employee union. Although the Open Meetings Law imposes no requirement that an executive session must be held, it has been found, based on past practice and the provisions of the Taylor Law, which deals with the relationship between public employers and public employee organizations, that collective bargaining negotiations must be conducted in private [County of Saratoga v. Newman, 476 NYS2d 1020 (1984)]. Although I disagree with the determination, it is the only judicial decision that addresses the issue that you raised and, therefore, has precedential effect.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
cc: Board of Trustees