Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 22, 2013

CITY SPENDING: Taxpayer-funded city council sessions at local restaurants draw mixed reviews

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette —

Johnson provided the Gazette with a copy of the Committee on Open Government’s advisory opinion on social gatherings as they relate to the open meetings law dated Feb. 9, 2000. In it, Freeman noted that, at the outset, the law pertains to meetings of public bodies, and that the courts have construed the term “meeting” expansively. 

In his letter, Freeman referenced a 1978 state Court of Appeals’ decision that determined that any gathering of a quorum of a public body for the purpose of conducting public business constitutes a “meeting subject to open meetings law, “whether or not there is an intent to take action, and regardless of the manner in which a gathering may be characterized.” 

In Freeman’s opinion, “inherent in the definition of ‘meeting’ is the notion of intent.” He wrote that if a majority of a public body gathers in order to conduct public business collectively, “as a body,” he believes such a gathering would constitute a ‘meeting’ subject to the law. Freeman noted that in the Appellate Division decision so-called “work sessions” and similar gatherings in which there was “merely an intent to discuss, but no intent to take formal action,” still constituted public meetings. 

In his letter, Freeman reasoned that he did not believe open meetings law applied when members of a public body met “by chance or at a social gathering,” because there would be no “intent to conduct public business, collectively, as a body.” However, he noted, if, “by design,” the members of a public body sought to meet to socialize or to discuss public business formally or otherwise, “I believe that a gathering of a majority would trigger the application of open meetings law.” 

Johnson pointed to the final paragraph of Freeman’s letter as being supportive of the city law office’s stance on the issue. 

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