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Your Open Meetings Law Rights

The New York State Open Meetings Law begins with the following:

“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 and 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.”

Who does the Law Apply to?

The Open Meetings Law applies to public bodies such as Village Boards, Town Boards, City Councils, County Legislatures, Board of Supervisors, School Boards, Planning Boards, Zoning Boards, Industrial Development Agencies, and other public authorities.

Public Notice

If a meeting is scheduled a week or more in advance, notice of the meeting must be provided at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. If a meeting is scheduled less than a week in advance, then notice must be provided as best as practicable.

Meeting Documents

At least 24 hours prior to a meeting, any documents scheduled to be discussed on the meeting agenda, which board members have received, should be posted online for the public to see. You should not be in the dark about what your elected officials are discussing and voting on.

Meeting Minutes

No later than two weeks after a meeting, minutes or a recording of the meeting must be posted online. There is no requirement to approve minutes, and draft minutes can be posted.

Executive Sessions

A public body has the right, in very limited and specific circumstances, to discuss certain issues in private. An executive session should not be scheduled in advance; there should not be an agenda item that states “Executive Session.”

For an executive session to occur, a motion must be made in public that states a specific reason for the members to meet in private.  The motion must be seconded, voted on, and approved by a majority of the board. You have a right to know the specific reason the board is having a private discussion. Here are examples of common improper motions:
  • “I move to go into executive session to discuss litigation or a pending legal matter.”

    This motion is not specific enough under the law, as you have the right to know the name of the litigation being discussed.
  • “I move to go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter.”

    This motion is not specific enough under the law. While the name of a person does not have to be disclosed, you should be informed if the discussion is regarding hiring someone, firing someone, disciplining someone, etc.
  • “I move to go into executive session to discuss union contract negotiations.”

    This motion is not specific enough under the law as the name of the collective bargaining union should be stated so that you have some idea as to what union they are discussing.
  • A motion to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”

    This is improper as there are 14 different reasons stated in this motion and the public has no idea what the reason is for the executive session. A correct motion would be a motion to discuss “the termination of a particular person” or to discuss “the appointment of a particular person.”

Just because a body has a right to go into an executive session does not mean it must. Nothing prevents a board from discussing the above items in public if they wish to do so.

Public Comment

Shockingly, you do not have a right to speak at government meetings. Many places provide an opportunity to speak, but they are not required to do so. Nothing in the law requires you to state your name and address in order to speak, but many places have rules that require you to do so.

You should be allowed to speak on agenda and non-agenda items, but some places will only allow you to speak on agenda items. Board members are not obligated to respond to your public comments or questions. It is important that you make your point as brief and focused as possible without engaging in personal attacks or insults.


Many committees are not required to follow the Open Meetings Law. If all the members of a committee are elected officials, then the committee must follow the Open Meetings Law.

If at least two members of a committee are elected officials, then a committee must follow the Open Meetings Law. If a committee only has the power to provide advice or recommendations to the full board, then it is considered an advisory committee, not required to follow the Open Meetings Law.

Although an advisory committee is not required to follow the Open Meetings Law, the committee can voluntarily comply with the Open Meetings Law, or a local government can adopt rules that require all committees to comply with the law.

Political Caucus

The worst loophole in the law is that board members of the same political party can meet in private to discuss political party and public business.

No public notice is required for these caucus meetings, and there are no meeting minutes. During these meetings, staff and others can be invited to attend as long as only board members of the same political party are in the room.

We think the ability to discuss public business in private caucus meetings should be eliminated as it completely guts the Open Meetings Law.

Violations of the Law

If your local government is violating the Open Meetings Law, you should try to interest a local news reporter in doing a story.

Sometimes media attention will embarrass government officials into complying with the law. The only other option you have is to hire an attorney to file an Article 78 lawsuit.

Don’t be shy about pointing out violations you see during your public comment time when you can speak to the board.