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Newspaper loses suit for tapes of Supervisors' sessions

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Newspaper loses suit for tapes of Supervisors' sessions 11/03/97 NEW YORK--Records of Hamilton County Board of Supervisors' sessions do not…

Newspaper loses suit for tapes of Supervisors’ sessions

11/03/97

NEW YORK–Records of Hamilton County Board of Supervisors’ sessions do not have to be made public, a state appellate court in Albany, N.Y., unanimously held in mid-October.

The decision reversed a lower court ruling that tapes made during three executive sessions and one special emergency session of the board must be released under the state Freedom of Information Law.

In 1995, the Hamilton County News, a weekly newspaper based in Speculator, N.Y., made a request for “any tape recordings, transcripts and minutes” of the sessions.

The board denied the request on the ground that the material sought was exempt from disclosure under the Public Officers Law because the executive sessions were called for the purpose of discussing ligation and the emergency session was called for the purpose of discussing legal services rendered.

The newspaper appealed the board’s decision to a trial court in Albany that ordered partial disclosure. Following that decision, the newspaper brought the case before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in Albany.

Christine Meixner, the newspaper’s general manager, told The Associated Press that the paper was concerned that the board had “fallen into a very lax attitude” with regard to openness and, while not breaking the letter of the meetings law, was abusing its spirit.

The appellate court ruled that an exemption for “executive sessions” in the Open Meetings Law applies to prohibit access to records of those sessions as well. “It makes little sense to permit governmental bodies to meet in private under clearly defined circumstances only to subsequently allow the minutes of those private meetings to be publicly accessed under FOIL,” the court wrote. (In the matter of Kline v. County of Hamilton; Media Cousel: Fred Goodman, Amsterdam, N.Y.)