Ask the Lawyer

Civic Law


Q:  I was attending a meeting of my local Zoning Board, and the Board members left the room to have a private discussion about the case they were hearing.  Aren’t Zoning Board meetings supposed to be public meetings?

A: According to the New York Open Meetings Law, meetings of public bodies are required to be held in a location and under circumstances where the proceedings can be seen and heard by the public.  (Whether or not the public can speak is another issue, to be discussed at another time.)

However, there are certain instances in which a public body can meet in executive session, and exclude some or all persons other than members of the public body from being present.

Some of the most common subjects which can be discussed in executive session are obtaining legal advice; discussing pending or prospective litigation, or collective bargaining matters, or matters which relate to hiring, firing or discipline of a public officer or employee.  Most of these are unlikely to apply in the case of a Zoning Board. 

In addition, public bodies which are quasi-judicial in nature are allowed to deliberate in private before making their decisions in public.  However, there is a specific provision in the statute which prohibits Zoning Boards from doing this, and they must deliberate and make their decisions in public.

A. Thomas Levin is a Member of the law firm of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein P.C. located in Garden City, Long Island, N.Y. and Chair of the firm's Municipal Law, Land Use and Environmental Compliance practice and the Professional Responsibility practice. Mr. Levin represents public and private sector clients in the fields of local government law, land use regulation, commercial litigation and matters relating to professional responsibility, ethics and disciplinary proceedings.

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