On March 12, 2020, Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.1, suspending and modifying laws relating to the COVID-19 disaster emergency. One of the laws this Executive Order modified was the Open Meetings Law. In an effort to reduce public gatherings and foster social distancing, the Open Meetings Law has been modified to permit attendance by telephone conference or by other similar service:
Article 7 of the Public Officers Law, to the extent necessary to permit any public body to meet and take such actions authorized by the law without permitting in public in-person access to meetings and authorizing such meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service, provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed….
While the Open Meetings Law always permitted videoconferencing, the law also required the public body to “provide an opportunity for the public to attend, listen and observe at any site at which a member participates.” Executive Order 202.1 changes that provision and expands it to include participation by telephone conference.
Members of the public need to be provided access to the telephone conference or video conference information, so they can listen and observe the meeting, and the meeting needs to be recorded and later transcribed. But, members of the general public have no right to participate in the meeting beyond listening or watching.
Executive Order 202.1 indicates that it will remain in effect for thirty days until April 11, 2020. However, it is possible that it may be further extended. Information about the Governor’s Executive Orders may be found here.
If you would like to schedule a consultation to discuss the Open Meetings Law or other municipal legal matters, please contact Peter J. Weishaar, Esq. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.512.3542. Peter’s municipal practice includes the ongoing representation of planning and zoning boards, as well as the representation of fire districts and other municipalities on an ongoing basis and as special counsel in litigation matters.
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