A member of my board of trustees would like for us to meet in person. There would be 9 people in the room. They wanted to know if allowing the meeting to be simultaneously on Zoom would satisfy the requirements of open meetings law even though only one member of the public would be able to be physically present in order to stay under the 10-member cap for small gatherings.
Since the onset of the pandemic, we have had two questions about the impact of Executive Orders on the Open Meetings Law.
The first question, back in March 2020 (remember March 2020? Ugh.), led to this advice:
... the method you select for sharing the meeting in real time (livestreaming, a broadcast) should be accessible to the general public.
Of course, by Fall 2020, we all became experts at these modified proceedings, and were asking refined questions like:
How long does a library (public or association) or a cooperative public library system have to keep the recording of board or committee meetings?
(Answer: until transcribed.)
This brings us to December, 2020.
On December 2, 2020, the Governor issued Executive Order 202.79, continuing the suspension and temporary modification of the Open Meetings Law through January 1, 2021. So here we are, still meeting under modified circumstances.
Which brings us to the member's question:
[Does] allowing the meeting to be simultaneously on Zoom ... satisfy the requirements of open meetings law even though only one member of the public would be able to be physically present in order to stay under the 10-member cap for small gatherings[?]
Here is why I can answer this question with one-word confidence.
Back in August, 2020 (remember August, 2020? Slightly less "ugh.") the Executive Director of the State Committee on Open Government, realizing that different areas have different COVID numbers and are facing different Open Meetings Law compliance challenges, wrote in an Advisory Opinion:
...if a public body is convening an essential meeting, the body must ensure that it adheres to social distancing, masking, and any other administration requirements, and if there is any question about whether it is able to maintain a safe space in which to hold an essential open meeting, it must provide a contemporaneous video or audio broadcast such that members of the public who cannot safely attend in person “ha[ve] the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed.”
Further, the Advisory Opinion went on to emphasize that room capacity and safety concerns should not impede public access to an OML-accessible meeting. "[A] public body may not artificially limit attendance at its meetings – to do so would not be consistent with the requirements of the Open Meetings Law."
The solution posed in the question submitted by the member adequately addresses this concern. By enabling observation and attendance via Zoom, the proceeding will be virtually accessible even though it has been physically convened. The key is ensuring access at a time of modified operations.
And what do we do when Executive Order 202.72 expires?
We'll see in the New Year!
Thanks for a thoughtful question, I wish you a productive and safe meeting.
 If you'd like to follow the daisy-chain of executive orders on this, here goes: Executive Order 202.1 first suspended/modified the Open Meetings Law Requirements, and then Executive Orders 202.14, 202.28. 202.38, 202,48, 202.55, 202.60, 202.67, and now, 202.72, kept that suspension/modification going.
 There are several legal challenges under way, based on the ability of the Governor to continue the state of emergency and resulting Executive Orders. I am not commenting on that.
 Found at https://www.dos.ny.gov/press/2020/Essential%20Meeting%20OML%20AO.pdf
Under the executive order, the modifications to Open Meetings Law meant we (I'm asking for several libraries in our system) record our Board meetings.
How long does a library (public or association) or a cooperative public library system have to keep the recording of board or committee meetings ? Looking at http://www.archives.nysed.gov/records/local-government-records-schedule-browse?combine=meeting+recording, it states:
"Four months after the transcription or minutes have been created"
Transcribing could be challenging, particularly for smaller libraries, so we were relieved to read that once minutes were created, we might not have to transcribe (hopefully we are reading that correctly).
However - our question is about the placement of the word "or". Is it:
Option 1: Once transcribed, keep for four months. Once minutes are created and accepted (which might be less than four months - in our case, it would be at the next board meeting), you can delete recording.
Option 2: Whether transcribed or minutes created, keep the recordings for four months.
Under option 2, it seems like there is a higher standard for meetings. Pre COVID, our board meetings would occur, open to the public but usually no public in attendance, and the only "evidence" of the meeting would be the minutes. Now, we are required to keep the recording for at least four months - which isn't a huge hardship but curious about the rationale behind that.
Before attempting to answer this one, my team and I looked to see if anyone else "out there" has tackled this question.
We scoured the usual places (NYS Empire Development's COVID site, Committee on Open Government, NY Archives, NYLA, etc.), but my staff and I didn't find anything right on point. That said, the COVID landscape changes fast, so please let us know if you find anything, and we'll post an update to this answer.
And with that shameless disclaim/plea on the record, here is my answer:
As I read it, the currently-governing Executive Order requires an entity subject to the Open Meetings Law to keep the recordings until they have been transcribed—not just until the minutes have been created.
Here is my reasoning: Executive Order 202.1 changed the Open Meetings Law as follows:
...to the extent necessary to permit any public body to meet and take such actions authorized by the law without permitting in public in-person access to meetings and authorizing such meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service, provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed. [emphasis added]
Although the normal application of the LGS-1 would allow for the recording to be erased upon creation of the minutes—just as the member points out—the Executive Order is an overlay that super-cedes (or at least, exceeds) normal record-keeping requirements.
I realize this means a library that can't afford to transcribe the recording any time soon will have to keep the audio around. It's possible that the state, after considering the fiscal reality of the conditions the "later transcribed" condition imposes, may eventually tinker with the requirement, perhaps simply insisting the audio be retained for a certain time after the minutes are generated.
I am leaning on the side of retention, and not taking the easy way out by swapping it out for creating minutes, because access to the process, in all its glory, is the default purpose of the law. Further, Committee on Open Government Advisory Opinion has stated that while masks and social distancing remain requirements, entities subject to the Open Meetings Law must be making the proceedings contemporaneously available via audio or video. So with all that, I have to err on the side of retention, access, and transparency.
Fortunately, digital sound file storage is not too costly these days.
Thank you for a thoughtful question.
 Which as of this writing, is extended through December 3, 2020, by Executive Order #72, found on 11/17/20 at https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/no-20272-continuing-temporary-suspension-and-modification-laws-relating-disaster-emergency.
 This sounds like a nice ask to go out from a library advocacy organization. "Please, Mr. Governor, can you waive the estimated $[AMOUNT] in estimated transcription fees incurred the same year when many localities are taking COVID-induced hits to their budgets?" I'd sign that letter in a heartbeat.
 Finding the budget to properly compensate qualified people to manage that storage is another question!
The Gov has put out his new proclamation in regards to votes. At [our school district public library] our vote has always been separate from the school vote but the gov's doc reads that our only option is to have the vote with the school or have it in Sept. Sept would not work since our fiscal year is July to June.
Also, a couple of us are not sure about the trustee election. Do we not hold trustee election since we do not currently have any petitions filed for the open seat, if that is the case can the board appoint until the next election[?]
As a prelude, readers may want to take a look at an earlier COVID-19-era “Ask the Lawyer” about library elections postposed per Executive Order 202.12, which ends with this promise:
“If and when we get an update or “further directives,” we’ll post any update to this answer.”
As you can see, it took a few weeks, but we got those “further directives” on Friday, May 1, 2020, in Executive Order 202.26.
Libraries don’t miss much. On Monday May 4th, we also got the above follow-up question.
So here is the promised update, and my answer to a conundrum like the one this “further direction” creates for the asking library.
If there is one thing providing this service to hundreds of libraries has taught me, it’s that running a library is hard. And running a public library comes with an overlay of regulations and community politics that makes a hard job harder.
So for those libraries out there finding that this issue of rescheduled budgets and elections is making a hard job harder, I say: yes, it is. The strain on your communities, staff, and leadership is growing every day, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
Sometime, in the pressure of the moment, it can be hard to say that. So, for libraries seeking a default way to unite and raise the spirits of your staff, leadership, and allies in information and community service, I suggest the following “2020 NY Libraries Chanty.” Gather your board, staff, and/or supporters on a Zoom call, or a teleconference, have them all face the direction of the library (this is important, even if you can’t see each other!), and recite:
The books are still here.
People still need us.
These challenges are hard,
but we got this.
You can also add your own custom lyrics, like:
Located in a sunny glen
New Hartford Library faces ahead
Times are hard, the Town is strong
We’ll do yoga here again ere long.
The importance of simple, affirmative, repeated affirmations like a chanty--or simply repeating a mission statement at the beginning and end of a meeting--can’t be over-stated--especially at this time.
Further, since the notion of “normal” is starting to shift, it is vital that the slowly materializing “new normal” be infused with a united vision of a strong, community-focused, mission-forward library.
This can be easy to overlook in the midst of emergency budget meetings and communicating about emergency closure. A simple song or phrase, regularly repeated, can be a key component in buoying spirits and plotting a course for the future.
(And if you do craft a custom message, have a contest, because I bet your local youth can come up with better verses than I can.)
Okay, with the light verse out of the way, here is the hard stuff:
Timing of a School District Library Election
As you may recall, Executive Order 202.12 stated:
Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections.
So what does 202.26’s “further directive” do? First, it expands on the impacted elections (seemingly including ALL of them, not just those set for May or June, as in 202.12), and as the member writes, seems to give only two timing options for conducting your votes.
This timing is found near the end of the Order, which states through May 31, 2020:
Any district or special district, including, but not limited to fire, library, sewer, or water, that conducts an election and/or budget vote shall be rescheduled to September 15, 2020 and collection of signatures for nominating petitions is hereby suspended until further notice, subject to a process determined by a future Executive Order; provided however, a library district may conduct an election on June 9, 2020 pursuant to this Executive Order if such election is managed by a school district.
However, a careful reading of the context of above-excerpted language shows that those particular bullet of 202.26 only applies to “through May 31,” and that it pertains to “any district or special district” library.
In the meantime, earlier in this voluminous Executive Order (nine bullets deep), it states:
…[P]ublic libraries established and supported by a school district [may] re-notice an election noticed pursuant to this section. Such election and/or budget vote shall be conducted via absentee ballot in conjunction with the school district’s rescheduled absentee ballot process or independently using the guidelines created for the school district’s absentee ballot process. Such a vote may be managed by the school district or the library, at the library’s request.
If you had eight cups of coffee the day you read it, you may recall that in the answer discussing EO 202.12, we discussed that the EO did not impact all school district library elections, since by law, those have to happen before July 1, and 202.12 only covered elections through May.
This detail now comes roaring back into relief as we dissect EO 202.26. Upon a close analysis, it can be seen that this Order gives school district public libraries more latitude than district and special district libraries, in paragraphs such as:
Sections 259 and 260 of the Education Law are hereby modified for any library election held on or before July 1, 2020, to eliminate any requirement for an application to access an absentee ballot, and each such eligible voter shall be mailed an absentee ballot with a postage paid return envelope.
If school district public library votes limited to the June 9/September 15 options open to district and special district libraries, this bullet about “any” election before July 1 would be unnecessary.
What does this mean? Well, as the Order says:
Such election and/or budget vote shall be conducted via absentee ballot in conjunction with the school district’s rescheduled absentee ballot process or independently using the guidelines created for the school district’s absentee ballot process.
Remember, both EO 202.12 and 202.26 modify Section 260 of the Education law, which (among other things) creates special rules for election and votes pertaining to school district public libraries.
Section 260 provides:
7. The board of trustees of a public library established and supported by a school district shall, in addition to powers conferred by this or any other chapter, be authorized in its discretion to call, give notice of and conduct a special district meeting for the purpose of electing library trustees and of submitting initially a resolution in accordance with the provisions of subdivision one of section two hundred fifty-nine of this chapter. Such meeting shall be held prior to the first day of July but subsequent to the first day of April. Should the board of trustees of the library determine, in its discretion, not to notice and conduct such a meeting, then the election and budget vote will be noticed and conducted by the board of education of the school district as part of its annual meeting.
EO 202.12 did postpone any elections set for April or May (not June!), but left many details about petitions, notice, and voting for “further directive.”
EO 202.26 now gives those further directions, and modifies Section 206 further to require a vote to happen either
…in conjunction with the school district’s rescheduled absentee ballot process or independently using the guidelines created for the school district’s absentee ballot process.
Further, the EO honors the autonomy of a school district public library by providing:
Such a vote may be managed by the school district or the library, at the library’s request.
What does this mean for a school district public library?
First, they must work with their sponsoring district to obtain a copy of the guidelines developed for the absentee vote.
Second, they must decide if they have the capacity to manage the vote, or should request the district to manage it.
Third, if the library can manage it independently, they must abide by Education Law 206 and properly notice (or, as authorized, re-notice) and conduct the election and budget vote, per the guidelines adopted by their district, before July 1.
I see no provisions in Executive Order 202.26 limiting school district public library elections and budget votes to the June 9 or 15th dates.
This might seem to be in contrast to the plain language of EO 202.26’s fourth-from-last bullet, which states: “provided however, a library district may conduct an election on June 9, 2020 pursuant to this Executive Order if such election is managed by a school district.”
However, that fourth-from-last bullet does not apply to school district public libraries—it applies to “library districts.” Any other interpretation goes expressly against language in the ninth bullet stating that school district public libraries are expressly confirmed as having the authority to run their own election.
So unless we get an even further directive, or the state realizes they created an unintentional hole in the process here, it is clear that school district public libraries still have the authority to conduct their elections before July 1st…so long as they abide by the guidelines developed by their district for absentee voting.
I take this position on May 5, 2020, with a great deal of confidence, but must still acknowledge that I am out on a limb. These Executive Orders are constantly being revised and clarified by subsequent Executive Orders (202.26 “clarifies” 202.23’s provision about absentee ballots in its final bullet). So while I believe this interpretation makes sense both under the law and within the borders of the document itself, school district public libraries scheduling, noticing and conducting their elections should conduct a clear, explicit, documented discussion with their sponsoring districts to make sure they agree that this is the way to proceed.
And we should all keep our eyes open for further clarification!
Executive Order 202.26 also contemplates that getting candidates’ petitions over the finish line might be a little tough this year, so in that same “ninth bullet” devoted to school district public libraries, it provides:
Furthermore, the same provisions that are made for a school board trustee’s petition shall apply to a library board trustee’s petition.
These “provisions” for trustees’ petitions are in bullets seven and eight:
The member asks “since we do not currently have any petitions filed for the open seat” should they simply appoint trustees, per their bylaws, until the next election?
These are incredibly unique (and hopefully rare!) circumstances, but remember, even at this unusual time, Section 206 (7), except as modified by Executive Order, governs school district public library elections.
That law specifically states:
Should the board of trustees of the library determine, in its discretion, not to notice and conduct such a meeting, then the election and budget vote will be noticed and conducted by the board of education of the school district as part of its annual meeting. [emphasis added]
This does not appear to be an “optional” process, and no active EO has changed it. Therefore, if a school district public library does not conduct required election, the district must.
Resorting to a bylaws appointment or deciding not to conduct the election is not an option.
Given all that, and considering the unique circumstances for 2020—incuding the newly relaxed requirements regarding trustee petitions—I advise that before not proceeding with an election process (and thus triggering mandated school district management of one), the board coordinate the quest for trustees with its overall response to the current situation.
In other words, just like with all trustee recruiting, this is an opportunity to promote the mission of the library, and to recruit qualified people to help in the times ahead.
Here is a template recruitment notice for such an effort, referencing the current relevant Executive Orders, which could be modified for your library, and pushed out in both local media and on social media as well as the library's website:
Greetings from the [NAME] Library. 2020 has been an extraordinary year. In addition to changing our life in many ways, it has impacted the ability of potential trustees to petition to serve on the library's board of trustees (see Governor’s Executive Order 202.12).
Trustees play a vital role in our library: defining library policy, overseeing the budget, and deciding the library’s strategic directions.
The [NAME] Library’s current election, which due to emergency circumstances and per Executive Order 202.26 will be conducted via mail-in ballot, is scheduled for a [DATE]. If you are interested in serving as a library trustee, executive order 202.26 has changed the requirements, and now no signatures are required to put your name on the ballot.
If you are interested in submitting your name for election to this position , please [INSERT LOCAL GUIDELINES].
Service on the [NAME Library will be essential as our community recovers from the restrictions caused by COVID-19, and the years ahead. To help us serve that need, we seek candidates who know the community, who [INSERT BYLAWS’ TRUSTEE CRITERIA] and who believe that access to information and shared services will be a vital part of our recovery and the years ahead.
A final word: just like in the last answer regarding postponed elections, I must emphasize: if you can, now is the time for your school district public library to find a local lawyer to assist with your process, just to have back-up during uncertain times.
I am always happy to get calls from local attorneys to strategize on these issues; sometimes local circumstances can throw a curve ball at an otherwise straightforward situation…and this situation is anything but straightforward!
School district public libraries: I wish you good luck in your recruitment, your elections, and your budget votes.
 A day when many of us learned our children would not be return to school for the 2020 Spring semester. So…not quite a “day that will live in infamy,” but definitely the day my law office receptionist got a new “duty as assigned”: remote kindergarten substitute teacher.
 May the fourth be with you. Especially now.
 A “chanty” is a song sung (usually at sea) by people doing hard work together. Don’t worry, first amendment fans, this one is completely secular!
 If you gather the board this way, send a notice, since the notice provisions of the Education Law and the Open Meetings Law are still in effect.
 My Mom’s gentle yoga class at New Hartford Town Library has been on hold.
 Which, if you’re reading along with the Order, is four bullets from the end…jeez, I wish they’d number these things…
 “Bullet” sounds so punchy.
[Note; the text of this question was edited to remove the precise dates of scheduled election and notice.]
Executive Order 202.13 states:
"Circulation, filing, and collection of any designating petitions, or independent nominating petitions for any office that would otherwise be circulated or filed pursuant to the Election Law, Education Law or any other consolidated law for any office commencing March 31, 2020 are hereby postponed.
Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections."
My question is: our legal notices had been published indicating an open trustee position and petition deadlines were due March XX (none were filed) and the budget vote is April XX. The question is do we have to do a legal notice that the vote is postponed and do new legal notices once we have a date? At the same time can we reopen the opportunity for people to file a petition to run for the board?
This question is from a school district public library. Before answering it, I called the library director who sent it in.
Why? Well, first, I wanted to introduce myself. When a question has a lot of nuance and potential long-term ramifications, I like the member to know the answer comes from a real human being, not just a faceless attorney in Buffalo, NY.
Second, I wanted to check in on some details. As other school district public libraries can attest to, the minutia of elections and budget votes can get very technical—as well as personal (and sometimes passionate). Getting those details right is both an art and a science.
And finally...I'm not gonna lie. Sitting alone in my office, with my treasured staff working from home, cut off from our normal busy but generally cheery atmosphere, I might have been a tad lonely. Although anyone who works with me will tell you that half the time I am working in an introverted and ADD-infused cloud, four weeks of pandemic isolation have taken their toll. It was nice to call the member and connect at a human level.
How did the conversation go? I'll keep that part confidential.
Let’s take a brief aside to review the “Ask the Lawyer” model.
For members who use “Ask the Lawyer,” there are often two concrete results from the submission of the question:
The most common result is a post to the “Recently Asked Questions” (“RAQ”) site, which will contain generic guidance with no identifying details, so a general assessment of the legal issue can be shared with the largest possible impacted library community.
The second result, which doesn't occur for every question (but it's still pretty frequent) is a “confidential memo” just for the member and their council. This “confidential memo” supplements the general input with confidential legal advice, and lets us address any unique details that pertain to only that member.
This is how the 3R’s maximize the resources (legal fees) used to get the legal guidance and advice, while also enabling timely services to their members. And as I’ve reviewed, it is also how lonely attorneys can occasionally arrange a phone call to socialize about a legal need during pandemic-imposed isolation.
So, again…how did the conversation with the member go? As I said, it’s confidential. But let's just say, when I call a librarian, I expect some good conversation, and this member did not disappoint.
And with that, here is my generic “Recently Asked Questions” input on this situation:
The first priority in assessing any matter related to an election or budget vote is to consider any past extraordinary details—such as a previous controversy or contested procedures. As they say in the “Music Man”: You gotta know the territory. If there has been any past issue or hostility, planning to navigate a postponed election with those sensitivities in mind is wise.
Next (and this is essential), is setting up to ensure consistent and well-communicated support about the election from leaders and stakeholders: in this case, the board, the staff, the library’s system, the local school district, and (even if the election is not in their purview) the county Board of Elections. This includes communication about the postponement, and the re-set proceedings.
Why is this a critical step? When you're sailing into uncharted waters, it's good to sail with a fleet, and to cross-check each other’s navigation.
And finally (but critically), before making any announcements or plans, check your charter, bylaws, and date of formation. Some libraries will have provisions in them relevant to this situation, and per sub-section 8 of Section 260 of the NY Education Law (controlling school district public library elections), a library chartered before April 30, 1971 may have a bit more leeway in these matters, as a matter of law. Further, your library may have its own notice requirements or procedures, on top of the base-line legal requirements.
Now, as to the present circumstances, let’s parse the relevant content of Executive Order 202.12:
Circulation, filing, and collection of any designating petitions, or independent nominating petitions for any office that would otherwise be circulated or filed pursuant to the Election Law, Education Law or any other consolidated law for any office commencing March 31, 2020 are hereby postponed.
Any school board, library board, or village election scheduled to take place in April or May of 2020 is hereby postponed until at least June 1, 2020, and subject to further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections.
As if this whole exercise isn’t going to be complicated enough, the first thing I need to note is that, under Education Law Section 260 (sub-section 7), school district public libraries have between April 1 to the end of June to hold their elections. So just be aware: EO 202.13 did not delay all scheduled elections (only those set for “April or May). So, for this answer, we’ll only address elections set for April or May.
Next, we need to check in not only with Education Law Section 260, but its companion Section 2018, which addresses the filing of petitions:
Each petition shall be filed in the office of the clerk of the district between the hours of nine a.m. and five p.m., not later than the thirtieth day preceding the school meeting or election at which the candidates nominated are to be elected. [emphasis added]
And of course, Education law Section 2004, which requires notice be given:
“…at least forty-five days before said meeting, in two newspapers if there shall be two, or in one newspaper if there shall be but one, having general circulation within such district. But if no newspaper shall then have general circulation therein, the said notice shall be posted in at least twenty of the most public places in said district forty-five days before the time of such meeting.”
So, with all that, what are the answers to the member’s questions?
First question: Do we have to do a legal notice that the vote is postponed and do new legal notices once we have a date?
My assessment is that the Executive Order is sufficient notice that the vote is postposed. However, once the proceedings can be re-scheduled, a library will need to publish new notices. Further, it is important to note that the EO hints there will be “further directive as to the timing, location or manner of voting for such elections” coming from the Governor (or perhaps guidance from NYSED, upon direction of the Governor).
I imagine such “further directive” will take into account that typically, libraries must give at least 45 days’ notice. But in any event, right now, school district public library elections are in a holding pattern, and the boards and leadership need to stay alert for further directions on next steps.
That said, a discussion with stakeholders, to ensure your library is ready to set its proceeding when the time comes, might be wise. This could include a notice about the postponed proceedings, and direction as to where to look for next steps.
Here is a template:
Consistent with Executive Order 202.13, the [NAME] Library’s elections and budget vote are postponed, and the library is awaiting further direction from the state regarding rescheduling. The Library will publish further notice and information to the public regarding the election as soon as we are able. Questions about elections in [COUNTY] County can be directed to the [COUNTY] County Board of Elections at (###)###-####.
Second question: Can we reopen the opportunity for people to file a petition to run for the board?
This is fascinating.
The way I see it, 202.13’s “postponement” of elections means the thirty-day deadline for filing a designating petition will automatically be re-set to thirty days before whatever the new election will be. This is because under Education Law Sections 260(8) and 2018, the deadline for filing is not a fixed date, but a deadline calculated based on the date of the election. So, I think being ready to ask people to step up and get designated so you have sufficient nominees—especially if there were none duly submitted by the last deadline—is a good idea.
Of course, right now all collection and filing of designating petitions are also “postponed” (see the first excerpted paragraph of the Executive Order). And the deadlines for petitions are going to be tough to hit before the July 1 statutory deadline. And at some point, there may be a decision that previous submissions will not be re-opened.
The next “directive” on this issue will have to tackle the issue of meeting the notification and petition filing deadlines, as well as the implications for those libraries that were in the notice period, and those that were not.
This is where conferring with the local Board of Elections officials, and the school district, even if they do not oversee your library’s elections, will be so critical. They will have the insight and probably some inside information to share about how this will be configured. And for those libraries with a lawyer, this is the time to involve them (before final decisions are made).
To put this in context, right now although critical, the election is probably only one of the numerous high priority issues your library board is considering. First and foremost is likely the on-going well-being of the library and its role in the anticipated recovery of your community.
With that in mind, I suggest any board facing this situation also review the guidance on using a crisis management for public libraries, and factor the monitoring and messaging around this issue into their response plan.
If and when we get an update or “further directives,” we’ll post any update to this answer.
 Has anyone ever done a poll to see how many librarians have been serenaded with the “Marion,” song? And taken a further poll to see if it is now regarded as harassment?
Can you please explain the clause below found in Governor Cuomo's Executive Order dated 3/13/2020. It reads:
“Suspension of law allowing the attendance of meetings telephonically or other similar service:
Article 7 of the Public Officers Law, to the extent necessary to permit any public body to meet and take such actions authorized by the law without permitting in public in-person access to meetings and authorizing such meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service, provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed.”
It is understood the Order allows a public body may hold and take action in meetings held remotely. The question comes to announcing the meeting and announcing the location of the remote conference call or similar device. Is notification required? And if so, to what extent? Location of participant?
A second question is regarding whether or not a location must be open to the public to attend OR if it is required the public also be able to access the meeting via telephone/telecommunication.
Executive order can be found here: https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO_202_1.pdf
I have a phrase I use in my office to remind my team (and me) to be diligent, but always play it cool: “Quick work is [not such very good] work.”
To get ahead of the Covid-19 Pandemic, our government is acting QUICKLY. The closings, the attention to a million health-related and logistical details—our leaders are having to handle an immense amount of work, in a very small amount of time.
When working quickly, one of the first things to go by the wayside is word-smithing. As can be seen from the member’s questions, that is what happened here. The Order is helpful, but its phrasing probably could have been a bit more clear. UPDATE: Further, this March 13th Order may be confused for an earlier Order on March 7, which was the focus of a notice by the NY Committee on Open Government, that went out to many people, and has now been superseded by the Order referenced in the members question.
So, unpacking the order (and explaining a few things it is clear the asking member already understands, but I am providing for helpful context), what does it mean for libraries?
Libraries are required by the New York Education Law (which creates them) to follow the Open Meetings Law (a/k/a “Article 7 of the Public Officers Law”). This Order relaxes some of the laws requirements to suit our state’s pandemic response.
Typically, to comply with the Open Meetings Law, a library must: 1) provide notice of a meeting and announce the use of any teleconferencing in advance; 2) identify the location(s) for the meeting; and 3) state the public’s right to attend the meeting in person. If the meeting will be live-streamed over the internet, the announcement must include the web address. And finally, whenever possible, the library must post the notice of the meeting “conspicuously” on its website.  (It has been firmly and repeatedly established that no voting can take place via teleconference, but videoconferencing is allowed).
The Open Meetings Law was passed because, as the New York Legislature puts it:
It is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that the public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens of this state be fully aware of and able to observe the performance of public officials and attend and listen to the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy. The people must be able to remain informed if they are to retain control over those who are their public servants. It is the only climate under which the commonweal will prosper and enable the governmental process to operate for the benefit of those who created it.
So what is different now? We’re trying to maintain our democracy, but also keep it from getting sick. With that goal in mind, lets parse the Order, and answer the member’s questions.
1. The Order says: “…without permitting in public in-person access to meetings…”
This means that for the duration of the Order, the public does not have to be able to physically attend your library’s board meetings. Basically, it empowers your library to cut down the size of those physically assembling. This is consistent with other recent Executive Orders regarding eliminating large gatherings.
2. The Order says: “…authorizing such meetings to be held remotely by conference call or similar service…”
This means that for the duration of the Order, contrary to the usual requirements, your board can meet view conference call (or “similar” service).
3. The Order says: “…provided that the public has the ability to view or listen to such proceeding and that such meetings are recorded and later transcribed.”
This means that in order to take advantage of the relaxed requirements I set out in “1” and “2” above, the public has to be able to see OR hear the meetings, BUT ONLY if your library arranges for them to be recorded and (later!) transcribed.
These are significant adjustments to the requirements of the law. But with regard to notice, which is at the heart of the member’s question, the Order has waived none of law’s requirements.
With that in mind, to the greatest extent possible, sending notice to the media as usual, and posting notice of the meeting in a physical, non-virtual place viewable to the public is still required. While disclosing the exact location of all meeting participants may not be possible (since they will be on the phone), the notice should strive to include as much information as possible that is most useful to the public, including the location of any physical participants. And the method you select for sharing the meeting in real time (livestreaming, a broadcast) should be accessible to the general public.
It might be also be helpful, when crafting your notice, to include acknowledgement that this meeting and notice will be a little bit different:
In keeping with Executive Order 202.1 (regarding emergency adjustments to the Open Meetings Law in response to the Covid-19 pandemic), the public is not permitted in-person access to this meeting, and the meeting shall be held remotely via [METHOD]. As required by the Governor’s Order, the public will have the ability to [VIEW OR LISTEN TO] such proceeding at [METHOD], and the meeting shall be recorded, transcribed, and made available on the Library’s web site before [DATE].
Since current federal government guidance is that gatherings of more than ten people are not recommended at this time, it makes sense to not provide or allow access to a physical location in which to gather to listen to or view the meeting—at least for now. But business must get done.
Good luck with your meetings; your board members have a lot to think about.
 I actually use shorter, monosyllabic word, but Ask the Lawyer is rated “G.”
 I am assuming that “legal aid in the Governor’s Office” is not a relaxing job right now (if it ever is).
 Thanks for the heads-up on the COOG’s 3/9/20 advisory memo, Grace Riario at Ramapo Catskills Library System (which, to emphasize, has been superseded by the 3/13/20 Executive Order). With so much happening so fast, it is good to be able to add this layer of clarification.
 For a more thorough explanation, visit https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/openmeetinglawfaq.html
 Not a typo, but a cool old word for the general welfare.
 Public Officers Law, Article 7, §100.