TO BE PUBLISHED
July 11, 1994
IN RE: Brent O. Hardin/City of Louisville
OPEN MEETINGS DECISION
This matter comes to the Attorney General as an appeal from the written response of the City of Louisville. Mr. Brent O. Hardin is dissatisfied with the city's handling of his complaint relative to a meeting of the Board of Aldermen.
In a letter to President Beverly Melton of the Louisville Board of Aldermen, dated May 27, 1994, Mr. Hardin maintained that he and others were denied access to the aldermanic chambers on May 25, 1994, by personnel of the Louisville police and fire departments because the room had already been filled beyond capacity.
Mr. Hardin cited KRS 61.810 and KRS 61.820 and stated that if a meeting room becomes overcrowded and some people are prevented from attending, the meeting must be adjourned to another place or time that will allow the meeting to be open to the public at all times.
On behalf of the city of Louisville, Paul V. Guagliardo, Esq., Senior Attorney, responded to Mr. Hardin in a letter dated June 9, 1994. He denied that the Open Meetings Law had been violated by the city. He said in part that aldermanic chambers, generally, are more than adequate to handle the number of people wishing to attend a meeting. However, when the number of persons exceeds the room's legal capacity the Board of Aldermen must defer to the fire chief's orders and restrict access in the interests of safety.
In his letter of appeal to the Attorney General, received June 23, 1994, Mr. Hardin stated that his original complaint sufficiently recited the facts and issues raised. He said that the city's response to his complaint was factually incorrect and unresponsive to the issues raised.
The final document received by this office was a letter from Mr. Guagliardo to the Attorney General, dated June 30, 1994. He stated that Mr. Hardin and others were only denied access to the meeting while aldermanic chambers were filled to legal capacity. Also, those who could not enter the aldermanic chambers were given an opportunity to gather in the mayor's conference room and view the meeting on television.
KRS 61.810 does provide in part that all meetings of a quorum of the members of a public agency at which any public business is discussed or at which any action is taken by the agency, shall be public meetings and open to the public at all times.
KRS 61.820 states in part that all public meetings of all public agencies shall be held at specified times and places which are convenient to the public.
KRS 61.840 requires in part that all public agencies provide meeting room conditions which insofar as is feasible allow effective public observation of the public meetings.
In the situation involved here the meeting was held in a room which on most occasions could accommodate all those desiring to attend. On this particular day, however, everyone wanting to attend could not be accommodated so the public agency offered to let the overflow crowd view the meeting in another room by television. The question then becomes whether it is a violation of the open meetings law if everyone who desires to attend a particular public meeting cannot be accommodated at that meeting.
In 4 McQuillin Mun. Corp. (3rd Ed., 1992 Revised Volume), 13.07.20 the following appears in part:
It is axiomatic that municipal governing bodies may take official action only at public meetings. In order to meet this requirement, the term "public" in a statute
mandating public meetings is defined as referring to the citizenry directly concerned, without the necessity of their leaving the incorporated limits of the municipality to attend a council meeting. However, a city council need not provide a meeting place large enough to accommodate all members of the public in order to comply with an open meetings law. It need only afford an opportunity for those desiring to attend to do so by meeting in a place that provides reasonable public access.
The court, in Gutierrez v. City of Albuquerque, 96 N.M. 398, 631 P.2d 304 (1981), considered the question of whether the fact that council chambers were not large enough to accommodate all of the large crowd that appeared at the meeting violated the state's open meetings act. The court concluded that the city must allow reasonable public access for those wishing to attend and listen to the proceedings. The city met the requirements of the state law because the meeting was held in a facility designed to accommodate a large number of spectators and efforts were made to allow the excess crowd to listen to the proceedings by means of a radio broadcast and loudspeakers. At page 306 of its opinion the court said in part:
Petitioners focus upon the language "attend and listen" and contend that all must be in the room or in the presence of the Council members, regardless of the size of the crowd and the limitations of the meeting hall. This narrow view would permit invalidation of any action by a public body by the simple method of overflowing the Chambers. Thus, the Council, to be safe, would have to hire the football stadium or hold its meetings in a wide open space. Even then, reductio ad absurdum, if a tree or other obstruction stood between an individual and the Council, he could claim that he was not permitted to "attend."
It is, therefore, the opinion of the Attorney General that the city of Louisville did not violate the Open Meetings Act merely because everyone at a particular meeting could not
be admitted into the meeting room. The meeting was held in a facility which normally could accommodate all those desiring to attend and on this specific occasion the city offered to allow the overflow crowd to view the meeting from another room by television.
The appealing party, Brent O. Hardin, may challenge this decision by filing an appeal with the appropriate circuit court within thirty days from the date of this decision. See KRS 61.846(4)(a) and KRS 61.848. Pursuant to KRS 61.846(5), the Attorney General must be notified of any action filed in the circuit court, but he shall not be named as a party in that action or in any subsequent proceedings under the Open Meetings Act.
Thomas R. Emerson
Assistant Attorney General
Copies of this decision
have been mailed to:
Brent O. Hardin
9102 Bristol Avenue
Louisville, Kentucky 40220
Paul V. Guagliardo, Esq.
Assistant Director of Law
Department of Law
City of Louisville
Room 200, City Hall
Louisville, Kentucky 40202-2771