The Ins And Outs of State Public Records and Open Meetings Laws in New York

Resource Government
July 9, 2013 — 1,192 views  
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Each state has their own laws on public records; These laws enable both residents and non-residents to access public records including documents from local and state bodies under the government. The laws on public records should not be confused with the laws on Freedom of Information. They are different as are their state and federal interpretations. 

Need of Public Records

The public records are needed by both the government agencies and the public as they contain useful information. However, people do not surrender their sovereignty in delegating power to the public agencies to make laws. The people have the right to know what is good and not good for them, so they must have access to public records. You have the right to know how these public records help the government and the public.

Types of Public Records and Their Use

New York agencies have their specific public records which are open to inspection for the public. An agency is a government entity or office, council, corporation, public authority, commission, committee, division, bureau, board, municipal or state department.

Agency records are documents and these documents can either be created by the agency or these documents can be obtained by them. If any of the documents are under the agency control at the time the request for their access is made, then the agency is bound by law to make them available to the person who made the request.

Since you have the legitimate right to see the records or documents, you cannot be denied your right by law. In case you are denied the access, you can go for administrative appeal for enforcement of your request failing which you are within your right to go for judicial review. 

Usually, your request will be complied within 20 days of the receipt of your application which can be further extended to ten days in exceptional circumstances. While FOIA is applicable to only federal agencies, there are state public laws in place to allow you to access information from state and local governments and their agencies.

Open Meetings Law

The Open Meetings Law or OML is applicable to only public bodies, that is people and organizations that perform government functions for state such as the New York State, and one of its agencies or corporations including school districts, villages, towns, counties and cities. This definition also includes subcommittees and committees. Therefore, committees and subcommittees of legislative bodies, commissions, school boards, village and town boards as well as their trustees and city councils are included within the law.

Meeting under Open Meetings Law is said to take place when the public body is officially convened for conducting business. In addition, the requirement of the quorum must be fulfilled. The meeting is open to the public attendance, no matter how the gathering is and whether or not the goal of the meeting is to take an action. 

Every meeting must be preceded by a notice by law of time and place where the meeting is to take place. No public body can choose to discuss personal matters in the meeting or its executive session. The matters to be discussed can be only those that are listed under the Open Meeting Law, S 105(1). The executive meeting sessions can be attended only by the members of the public body or any other person or persons authorized by them. 

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