Director of the State Committee on Open Government (NY) holds forum on FOIL

More than 40 people attended a forum by Executive Director of the State Committee on Open Government Robert Freeman Thursday, July 31. During the meeting, Freeman briefly explained the intricacies of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) as well as the Open Meetings Law, answering many questions from the crowd relating to situations they have witnessed in local governments. The meeting was held at the Tyrone Fire Hall and was sponsored by resident Alan Hurley, Friends of Tyrone, SCOPE and the Odessa Tea Party.

While Freeman said his office holds no power to actually enforce the FOIL and Open Meetings Law, he offers advice and opinions to those with inquiries. He said the Open Meetings Law pertains to meetings of public governmental bodies consisting of two or more members either elected or appointed to carry out some statutory function. Freeman said notice must be given to media and posted in designated public locations not less than 72 hours prior to a meeting, and are also required to give notice online as well if practicable. He said the law went into effect in 1977, adding any gathering since then that is a quorum for conducting public business is considered a public meeting, even if no action was taken. Amendments that clarify and reaffirm one’s right to hear the deliberations of public bodies became effective in 1979.

Freeman warned those who attended about words like “workshop” and “work session” being fictional terms, adding even if no action is taken it is still considered a public meeting and must be open to the public. He said special meetings have a special provision requiring at least a two day written notice to town board members, with notice given to the public and news media “to the extent practicable.” Freeman said with the Internet being accessible to most municipalities, it is fairly easy to post notification of a meeting beforehand. Continue>>>