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November 23, 2014
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I’m not a lawyer, but ‘public’ means public

Bruce Ferguson

But is there really a loophole that permits municipalities to hold important meetings that aren’t subject to the Open Meetings Law? I asked New York State’s Committee on Open Government this question, and an attorney told me, “A town comprehensive plan Committee created pursuant to town law is also a ‘public body’ subject to the Open Meetings Law.” The state attorney also cited a case in which another town had a Comprehensive Plan/Master Plan Committee that held a meeting “for the purpose of reviewing the comprehensive plan” which “few members of the public attended, because there was little if any publication or notice.” The town was considered in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

To me, this sounds a lot like what happened in the Town of Callicoon.

Now maybe a clever lawyer can argue that Callicoon’s Comprehensive Plan Committee is somehow different, and perhaps what happened here didn’t run afoul of the law, but what about the bigger questions? Why should the Town of Callicoon hold important meetings without making a good faith effort to alert the public? And why should town residents pay a town attorney to defend this sort of behavior?

[Bruce Ferguson is a resident of the Town of Callicoon.]