Changes to Open Meetings Law Enable Hybrid Meetings But Present Ongoing Challenges

Hybrid hearings will allow members of the public to either attend public meetings in person or virtually. However, the state of emergency will keep meetings virtual for now. Image Credit: CityLand

Community boards often do not have the same resources as City agencies to have hybrid hearings. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many changes on how state and city governments conducted business, including public hearings. New York’s Open Meetings Law was originally designed to promote transparency, requiring hearings to be held in person and open to the public, with notice about how to participate. After meetings went virtual due to the pandemic, discussions began about how the open meetings law should better reflect modern circumstances.


The Open Meetings Law is a state law that required “public bodies”, such as the City Council, City agencies, and community boards, provide notice for time and place of all meetings, and required those public bodies to have a physical quorum present to conduct business. In response to the pandemic, former Governor Cuomo signed an emergency executive order that temporarily suspended the in-person quorum requirement, allowing hearings to be held virtually. 

ULURP resumed in September 2020. The City Planning Commission resumed meetings, eventually transitioning back to in person meetings while incorporating virtual Zoom testimony. In June 2021, former Governor Cuomo ended the COVID-19 state of emergency, which triggered the Open Meetings Law to apply again. Elected officials, community boards and members of the public opposed the return of the Open Meetings Law as is, due to the danger of the ongoing pandemic, the difficulty in finding venues that could safely accommodate in-person hearings with social distancing, and the accessibility of virtual hearings for community members who could not attend in-person due to health, childcare, or work conflicts. 

On September 2, 2021, Governor Kathy Hochul signed S.50001/A.40001, which permitted virtual meetings to continue through January 15, 2022. Groups like the City Planning Commission resumed fully virtual hearings. In late November 2021, Governor Hochul declared another COVID-19 disaster emergency, which enabled virtual hearings to continue past the January deadline. The disaster declaration is still in effect. 

The Amended Open Meetings Law

As part of the new laws passed along with the state budget back in April, changes to the open meetings law now provide public bodies with the ability to conduct hybrid public hearings.

Under the new law, a quorum of members of the governing body must be present in the physical location, but other members may use videoconferencing to participate in the meeting due to circumstances including illness, disability, caregiving responsibilities, or other “significant or unexpected factor or event” which prevents the participant from physically attending. If video conferencing is used, the public notice must also include how the public can access the meeting in person and virtually. Members of the public body must be able to be seen and heard as part of the videoconference, and members of the public must be able to view the video and participate live virtually in the same manner as if they were attending in person. 

The public body must maintain an official website, and post the recordings of each hearing. The law also contains a provision that suspends the requirements of the open meetings law if a state disaster emergency or local state of emergency is declared.  

Current Government Actions

The new open meetings law requires each governing body to adopt a local law or public body to adopt a resolution that outlines its use of videoconferencing for hybrid public meetings. While these changes will shape how these public bodies operate in the future, the current state of emergency allows these public bodies to remain virtual for now. 

The City Council had been conducting committee hearings virtually, with stated hearings in person. On June 2nd, the Council adopted its resolution to use videoconferencing for hybrid meetings. On the City Council’s website, a pop-up declares that due to the ongoing state of emergency and “due to the risk to Members of the Council and the general public posed by COVID-19, the in-person participation requirements of the State Open Meetings Law are hereby suspended for all hearings on June 9, 2022, and for the hearings of the Committee on Land Use and its Subcommittees on June 14, 2022.” 

On June 7, 2022, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held its public hearing on its resolution to use hybrid meetings and adopted a resolution to remain virtual during the state of emergency.

On June 8, 2022, the City Planning Commission voted to adopt both its hybrid meetings resolution and a resolution to remain virtual through September 22nd or when the states of emergency end, whichever occurs first. 


The changes to the open meetings law provide both members of governing bodies and the general public with multiple ways to participate that are more accommodating to real-life circumstances, including illness, disability and childcare conflicts. Solidifying the changes to the Open Meetings Law prevent the back and forth that occurred through the second half of 2021, allowing public bodies and members of the public to know what to expect for public hearings. As the pandemic continues to pose a threat, the new Open Meetings Law provides more flexibility to encourage safe public participation. 


However, the changes to the law still pose issues for governing bodies who do not have the necessary technical and logistical support to manage hybrid hearings. These potential issues can be seen with community boards. Under the new open meetings law, each individual community board will need to make its own decision on how to operate. Community boards vary in resources, and face many challenges in adapting hybrid hearings. 

In the early months of the pandemic, CityLand spoke with members from several community boards on how they were adapting their operations to go virtual; participation varied, some struggled with the technology or lacked the bandwidth to properly livestream, some members of the community did not have the capability to access virtual meetings, and virtual hearings could place a cap on the number of participants, depending on the type of virtual hearing used.

CityLand recently spoke with Josephine Beckmann, District Manager of Brooklyn Community Board 10. While the hybrid meetings may provide a solution for the City Council or City Planning Commission, many of her concerns about the amended open meetings law were the same shared by community board members two years prior.

Beckmann stated that community boards may have issues finding venues that can accommodate in-person hearings while also having the bandwidth and technology to support videoconferencing. Unlike the City Planning Commission, community boards do not have a central location to hold public meetings; some of these venues, like senior centers are no longer options due to COVID safety concerns.

Other technology issues present additional challenges. All 59 community boards are supported by a singular tech staff member from the Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, but that position is currently vacant. Community boards pay for the technology to host videoconferencing for meetings with their own budgets, but could benefit from more funding from the City.

While many community boards may have seen more engagement through virtual hearings, community members may still have ongoing difficulties accessing the technology to participate virtually, but may not feel safe to attend in-person due to the ongoing pandemic. Some community boards have received guidance for hybrid meetings, but others have not. It is unclear how well community boards are prepared for the transition if the state of emergency is lifted by the time public hearings resume in the fall, but it is clear that different levels of government may need additional supports moving forward.

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)

Update: This article has been amended to reflect a correction regarding the timeline of the City Planning Commission hearings.


One thought on “Changes to Open Meetings Law Enable Hybrid Meetings But Present Ongoing Challenges

  1. Well done, Ms. Rose. As a member of Brooklyn CB 8, I say ‘Thank you’ for the informative update.

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