The following letter was sent to the office of the Mayor, Public Advocate, Borough President, several Assembly members, members of the ACC Board:
Honorable Officials, Ladies, Gentlemen and concerned citizens:
Even though NYC’s Animal Care and Control Board, has been well aware for many months, of the public’s negative reaction to draconian budget cuts imposed by the Department of Health, which have resulted in unconscionable cuts in services to the animals in our pounds, and the outcry against what is happening in our NYC ACC “shelter” system, they saw fit to hold their quarterly meeting on June 21, 2011, in the same, usual meeting room that could accommodate no more than @45 people. Over 100 people were barred from entering the building and remained out in the street, in the heat of the day, while the ACC Board met and once again refused to answer a single question or make any comments in reply to the concerns expressed by NY citizens, about the horrendous and intolerable conditions in our “shelters”. In addition, as is their custom, they refused to accept any written comments and minutes of the meeting are not made available to the public.
The “rosy” picture of conditions in the shelter as described by the Executive Director of ACC, Julie Bank, are belied by photographs and anecdotal reports that have surfaced during the past months on the internet(http://www.facebook.com/Urgentdeathrowdogs; http://www.facebook.com/PetsOnDeathRow ). The taxpaying public demands an inquiry into the procedures, the policies and the handling of complaints that have been brought to the attention of the Chair of the ACC Board and other City officials about an agency out of control. This situation is unacceptable. The time for action is now! We await your response.
Zelda Penzel, Co-Founder
S.O.S. Save Our Shelter Animals
Recent amendments to the Open Meetings Law:
Welcome to the Committee on Open Government, a unit housed in the Department of State that oversees and advises the government, public, and news media on Freedom of Information, Open Meetings, and Personal Privacy Protection Laws. The Committee offers guidance in response to phone inquiries, prepares written legal advisory opinions, and provides training to government and other interested groups. Recommendations to improve open government laws are offered in an annual report to Governor and the State Legislature.
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Recent amendments to the Open Meetings Law:
1. Effective immediately, §103 of the Open Meetings Law requires that public bodies make reasonable efforts to hold meetings in rooms that can “adequately accommodate” members of the public who wish to attend. The intent of the amendment, as expressed in the accompanying legislative memorandum, is for public bodies to hold meetings in rooms that can reasonably accommodate the number of people that can reasonably be expected to attend. For example, if a typical board meeting attracts 20 attendees, and meetings are held in a meeting room which accommodates approximately 30 people, there is adequate room for all to attend, listen and observe. But in the event that there is a contentious issue on the agenda and there are indications of substantial public interest, numerous letters to the editor, phone calls or emails regarding the topic, or perhaps a petition asking officials to take action, the new provision would require the public body to consider the number of people who might attend the meeting and take appropriate action to hold the meeting at a location that would accommodate those interested in attending, such as a school facility, a fire hall or other site.
Changing the location of a meeting may require providing notice of the new location, which would be required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
(Open Meetings Law §103[d]*, Laws 2010, Chapter 40, effective April 14, 2010.)
*A.10093/S.3195B, signed into law on the same day, also adds a new subdivision (d) to §103 of the Open Meetings Law.
2. Pursuant to Open Meetings Law §107, courts have long had the authority to invalidate action taken in private in violation of the Open Meetings Law. Before invalidating any action or portion thereof, and only upon good cause shown, a court must find that there was a violation of that law.
This enforcement mechanism was amended, effective June 14, 2010, to permit a court to declare either that the public body violated the Open Meetings Law and/or declare the action taken void. Further, if the court determines that a public body has violated the law, the court has the authority to require the members of the public body to receive training given by the Committee on Open Government.
(Open Meetings Law §107, Laws of 2010, Chapter 44, effective June 13, 2010.) 3. The Legislature amended Open Meetings Law §103 to codify case law concerning photographing and recording open meetings of public bodies. In short, the courts have determined that anyone may record open meetings, so long as use of a recording device is not disruptive or obtrusive. Those bodies will be statutorily required to allow meetings to be photographed, broadcast, webcast or otherwise recorded and/or transmitted by audio or video means. The new provision also states that public bodies may adopt reasonable rules governing the use of cameras and recording devices during open meetings, in which case such rules must be written, conspicuously posted, and provided to those in attendance upon request.
Note: Although this amendment will not become effective until April 1, 2011, case law currently requires public bodies to allow for the photographing and recording of public meetings, and permits a public body to adopt reasonable rules to govern those activities.
In our opinion, if the public body fails to adopt written rules governing such issues, it would not be precluded from imposing reasonable procedures in order to effectuate the efficient functioning of government. The Committee has prepared model rules, available here.
(Open Meetings Law §103[d]*, Laws 2010, Chapter 43, effective April 1, 2011.)
*A.5873/S.4284, signed into law on the same day, also adds a new subdivision (d) to §103 of the Open Meetings Law.