Village Attorney Sheds Light on Open Meeting Rules
by Judy Silberstein
(October 8, 2003) At their regularly scheduled meeting on
October 5, the Village of Larchmont’s
Board of Trustees acknowledged big birthdays for two community
Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary and LMC-TV is
hitting its 20th (See: Sunny Award).
In addition, the Village Attorney provided a primer on open
Feedback on Lights?
The Board is considering this model at
Gilder Street and
For some time, Trustee Marlene Kolbert has been asking for
a Board discussion to clarify provisions of laws governing
open meetings and sharing of government documents
Trustee Kolbert’s concerns stemmed, in part, from
having attended an Environmental Committee where a trustee
was asked to leave because other trustees were already in
attendance. It had been the Mayor’s view that the appearance
of more than three trustees would constitute a quorum of
the Board requiring prior public notification.
Village Attorney Jim Staudt supplied a brief legal background:
the open meeting law is mostly about exceptions. All meetings
are to be held in the open, with appropriate prior notification
to the public except for specifically exempted cases, for
example, discussions of private personnel matters, attorney-client
privileges, real estate negotiations or labor agreements.
The law, however, does not provide clear guidelines about
what to do about chance arrival of trustees at a meeting.
If the trustees sit quietly and do not participate in any
discussions or deliberations, perhaps that would be allowed,
he opined. However, if they start engaging in the conversation,
that would require prior notice. Attorney Staudt’s
advice: Given the difficulty of ensuring that trustees keep
quiet, it would be better to avoid the situation by limiting
the number of trustees.
Trustee Kolbert also voiced concerns about Board executive
sessions: what issues may properly be conducted behind closed
doors? This is an issue she feels concerns every board.
The Mayor pointed out that there are documents available
to explain the rules to board members. He mentioned the New
York State Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials (NYCOM)
newsletters; there are also online resources on Freedom
of Information Law and on Open
“I know the rules, but there are people out in the
public who do not, and they need to hear this discussion,” she
On the issue of documents, Trustee Kolbert had questions
about when a document becomes available to the public. This
comes up at least once a year when the Board is meeting with
each department and preparing a preliminary budget. Last year
political candidates complained about lack of disclosure of
budget material. “I’m trying to have this discussion
early on, before we’re even into the budget and the
election cycle,” she said.
Attorney Staudt explained that, again, documents are “foillable,”
i.e., subject to the Freedom of Information Act, unless they
are specifically exempted. Anyone can make a request for foilable
documents. Preliminary reports fall into the exempted category,
although data and statistics do not.
Contacted later, Trustee Mike Wiener commented “Jim
brought up exactly what I understood the Open Meeting law
to be. When in doubt, call him, because the law is driven
by exceptions.” Trustee Wiener also noted that the
discussion “does show that everyone on the Board is
trying to be respectful of the Open Meetings law and not
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