Time to follow the Open Meetings Law

It’s been almost a year since Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved an amendment to the Open Meetings Law (section 103e) requiring public bodies — school, town, village, city, county and state boards — to provide meeting material to the public prior to their meetings.

While some boards have made progress toward meeting this requirement, which was enacted last February, we sadly report that many public bodies are not following the law.

Moreover, many are not fulfilling the spirit of the law because they are hiding behind language in the amendment preventing it from becoming an unfunded mandate.

We urge all public boards to rectify this shortcoming immediately instead of hoping the public will ignore their responsibilities in regard to the New York State Open Meetings Law. The public has a right to know what board members are talking about in their meetings.

Starting Feb. 2, 2012, New York state began requiring boards to give the public access to their records scheduled for discussion at open meetings. The reason?

“Members of the public have on many occasions complained that they cannot fully understand discussions among members of public bodies, even though the discussions occur in public,” states the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government.

This change to the Open Meetings Law was made so “those interested in the work of public bodies should have the ability, within reasonable limitations, to see the records scheduled to be discussed during open meetings prior to the meetings.”

The change to the law centers around two types of records:

1) those that are required to be made available pursuant to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL);

2) and proposed resolutions, law, rules, regulations, policies or amendments thereto.

When these records are scheduled to be discussed, they must be “made available, upon request therefor, to the extent practicable as determined by the agency or the department, prior to or at the meeting during which the records will be discussed.”

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