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Legislative Memo: Open Meetings Law

This bill would strengthen the existing open meetings law by creating two avenues of enforcement: a court-issued stay on the implementation of action, remanding the action to the public body for reconsideration, and the imposition of a fine, up to five hundred dollars, on the public body for violations of the open meetings law. The NYCLU supports this proposal to enhance the open meetings law.
Open meetings of public entities are an essential ingredient to a fair and representative democracy. Open meetings not only ensure accountability of public officers, but also provide citizens with the opportunity to witness and participate in the operations of government. Closed meetings often result in actions that would not necessarily garner the support of the population represented.
Current sanctions for violations of the open meetings law are inadequate and rarely enforced, thereby providing an opportunity for public officials to escape the intent of the law by debating and planning actions in private, and then using a public meeting to rubber-stamp them.
This bill would close this loophole by permitting a court to stay the implementation of an action and remand it back to the public body for open consideration when any part of the deliberation over that action occurred in illegal, private meetings. It would also permit the imposition of a fine upon the violating public entity.
The open meetings law is an important tool to ensure fair representation in a government of, by and for the people. This bill, by strengthening the remedies for violation of this law, enhances the accountability of public officials, fair representation of citizens, and opportunities for freedom of speech and civic participation.
The NYCLU supports the passage of A.1258.
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