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Mark Mahoney's Your Right to Know
by Mark Mahoney

Your Right to Know

A Daily Gazette opinion blog
An interactive forum for readers on open government issues.

No RSVP needed for public meetings

Last week, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) held its quarterly meeting in Saratoga Springs, but opened it only to people who had previously announced they were attending. Those who hadn't RSVP'd, including reporters from a number of local newspapers and TV stations, were literally locked out of the meeting until someone apparently got hold of a copy of the Open Meetings Law and let them in.
NYRA is considered a public body, just like your local town or village board. And just like any local government body, its meetings legally must be open to the general public. You don't need an invitation. You don't need advance notice. You don't need media credentials. You can just show up, and they're supposed to let you in.
But some organizations, like NYRA and the state Gaming Commission, put restrictions on attendance. What they're doing is illegal.
In a letter obtained by the Albany Times Union, Rob Williams, head of the Franchise Oversight Board that monitors NYRA, wrote a letter to NYRA Director Christoper Kay reminding him of the illegality of the policy and urging him to end it.
The Gaming Commission, of which Williams is the director, also commands RSVPs, as do some other state organizations. Apparently, because they hold meetings in locations that have their own security, they seek the names in advance of those who will be attending in order to cut down on delays. The solution is to stop holding public meetings in inaccessible or restricted places.
Here's Section 103(d) of the Open Meetings Law with respect to locations of meetings: "Public bodies shall make or cause to be made all reasonable efforts to ensure that meetings are held in an appropriate facility which can adequately accommodate members of the public who wish to attend such meetings."
If you can't find a public building in this area that can accommodate your regularly scheduled meeting, you're not putting in a "reasonable effort."
This doesn't happen that often, frankly. Much more egregious violations of the law -- like holding unannounced meetings or discussing topics in secret that should be discussed in public -- occur with much more frequency.
But just be aware that if you want to attend a public meeting, you don't have to let anyone know in advance. Just go.
Your comments on this blog post, which may be posted below, are welcome.
-- Mark Mahoney

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