June 10, 2010
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.
As you are aware, I have received your correspondence relating to a matter involving compliance with the Open Meetings Law by the Smithtown Library Board of Trustees. Please accept my apologies for the delay in response.
By way of background, at its January meeting the Board voted to change the date of its regular February meeting. Following that meeting, the President of the Board realized that he had a conflict and asked the Library Director “to poll the board to see about a different date.” All but one Trustee could attend on the newly established date, and that Trustee contended that the Board “must keep the date they voted on at their January meeting...” After a number of email exchanges, a new date on which all members could attend was established, and notice of the meeting was given, apparently in compliance with the Open Meetings Law.
Six of seven Trustees attended the rescheduled meeting; the absent Trustee, the member who did not want to change the original date of the meeting, indicated that he was too ill to attend. At the March meeting, the absent member expressed the view that the February meeting “was improper” and that all actions taken at that meeting were invalid and needed to be “revoted.”
The question is whether a “special meeting” must be held “just to vote on the date of a regular meeting.” In my view, there is no such requirement.
First, it is common practice for public bodies to schedule meetings through communication and methods carried out outside of meetings themselves. The Committee on Open Government is a public body, and often the only manner in which it can be ascertained whether a quorum of the Committee can attend an upcoming meeting involves contacting members via email, or formerly phone, to learn of the dates on which members would have the ability to attend. Without that capacity, the Committee and numerous other public bodies would be unable ever to schedule meetings with the certainty or even the likelihood that a quorum can be present.
Second, a “meeting”, according to the Open Meetings Law, section 102(1), is a gathering of a quorum of a public body “for the purpose of conducting public business.” In my view, an effort such as that which you described would not have involved an activity that could be characterized as “conducting public business.” The communications did not involve or reflect the business or substantive duties of the board, but rather a purely administrative function that is typically carried out by staff.
And third, it appears that notice of the meeting was given pursuant to section 104 of the Open Meetings Law and that the meeting was held open to the public. If that so, I do not believe that there would be a basis for invalidation of action taken at the meeting in question. Further, as a general matter, action taken by a public body remains valid, unless and until a court renders a contrary determination.
I hope that the foregoing serves to offer clarification and that I have been of assistance.