January 8, 1999
Mr. Glenn Burton
Town of Onondaga
Zoning Board of Appeals
4801 West Seneca Turnpike
Syracuse, NY 13215
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
Dear Mr. Burton:
I have received your letter of December 2, which reached this office on December 21.
You have requested materials that may be useful to members of zoning boards of appeals and asked whether a zoning board of appeals "can legally go into executive session."
In this regard, although this office does not prepare explanatory materials on the subject of your interest, I have enclosed documentation prepared by the Department of State's Division of Local Government Services that may be useful to you.
With respect to your question, I believe that a zoning board of appeals may in limited
circumstances enter into executive session. By way of background, numerous problems and
conflicting interpretations arose under the Open Meetings Law as originally enacted with
respect to the deliberations of zoning boards of appeals. In §108(1), the Law had exempted from its coverage "quasi-judicial proceedings". When a zoning board of appeals deliberated toward a decision, its deliberations were often considered "quasi-judicial" and, therefore, outside the requirements of the Open Meetings Law. As such, those deliberations could be conducted in private. Nevertheless, in 1983, the Open Meetings Law was amended. In brief, the amendment to the Law indicates that the exemption regarding quasi-judicial proceedings may not be asserted by a zoning board of appeals. As a consequence, zoning boards of appeals are required to conduct their meetings pursuant to the same requirements as other public bodies subject to the Open Meetings Law.
Due to the amendment, a zoning board of appeals must deliberate in public, except
to the extent that a topic may justifiably be considered during an executive session or in
conjunction with an exemption other than §108(1). Paragraphs (a) through (h) of §105(1)
of the Open Meetings Law specify and limit the grounds for entry into an executive session.
Unless one or more of those topics arises, a zoning board of appeals must conduct its business in public.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman