June 3, 2013
FROM: Camille S. Jobin-Davis, Assistant 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.
This is in response to your request for information regarding the Open Meetings Law, video conferencing, and issues related to notice of such meetings in which videoconferencing is employed.
As you likely know, the Open Meetings Law permits members of public bodies to attend and participate in meetings via videoconferencing. For a member to attend in this manner, the statute requires first, that the public be provided “an opportunity to attend, listen and observe at any site at which a member participates” (§103[c]), and second, that notice of the locations of the meeting, including the location of the member who is attending via videoconference, shall be included in the public notice, pursuant to §104(4). That provision states that:
“If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations.”
Accordingly, should a member videoconference into a meeting from a remote location, the remote location must be open and accessible to the public. When a location is open to the public, the media cannot be prohibited from attending.
We have advised that it may be unreasonable and therefore contrary to law, for a public body to conduct a meeting in a restaurant, for example. Although the Open Meetings Law does not specify where meetings must be held, §103(a) of the Law states in part that "Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public...”. Entering a restaurant ordinarily involves a purchase, and in our view, attendance at a meeting of a public body should not involve consideration of the ability to pay. Further, the intent of the Open Meetings Law is clearly stated in §100 as follows:
“It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of an able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.
The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.”
As such, the Open Meetings Law confers a right upon the public to attend and listen to the deliberations of public bodies and to observe the performance of public officials who serve on such bodies, including the right to attend and listen at a remote location from which a member participates.
In response to questions regarding a requirement that those who attend a meeting provide identification, we note that there is no authority in any law that we know of that would permit a public body to prohibit a person from attending a meeting based on a failure to provide identification. Nor are we aware of a requirement that those who attend public meetings be introduced by name. For information regarding a requirement to identify oneself by name, please see the opinion at the following link: http://docs.dos.ny.gov/coog/otext/o3518.htm
In response to questions regarding last minute changes to either the location or the time of a meeting, please see the opinion at the following link: http://docs.dos.ny.gov/coog/otext/o4252.htm
We hope that you find this helpful.