New York Court Holds Meeting By Telephone Violates Law

Holding that a meeting held at which one of the members required for a quorum attended by telephone was invalid the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the equalization rate for six Westchester Communities was improperly established in the Matter of the Town of Eastchester v. The State Board of Real Property Tax Services (http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2005/2005_08732.htm).

The State Board of Real Property Tax Services fixes the equalization rate for municiplities which serves as the basis for determining the rate at which properties in that municipality will be taxed. The Board is required to consist of five members. At the time of the determination at issue the Board had only four members, one member was absent and one member attended the meeting by telephone. Until recently the New York General Construction Law section 41 provided that for any government agency or board to conduct business a majority of the total number of members must be present in the same place. An amendment to that law in 2000 created a single exception permitting attendance by video conference. In finding that the Board did not act at a legal meeting the Court noted that had the legislature intended to include telephonic attendance it would have done so when the amendment permitting video confernces was adopted.

Since a quorum of the Board required three members to be in attendance at the same place or by video conference, the Court found that the meeting held by teleconference violated the General Construction Law. The Court invalidated the rates and sent the matter back to the Board for reconsideration. The practical result may be that the same rates will be set by a quorum of the Board at a new meeting.