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From Fire District Affairs

On several occasions, counsel has been asked if a quorum of the Board of Fire Commissioners must be present for it to conduct a public hearing. A public hearing is a proceeding conducted by a public body to hear comments from the public on some action that the public body is considering. Often, statutes mandate such proceedings for the public body. For example, each year the Board of Fire Commissioners is required to conduct a public hearing before approving the final budget for the next fiscal year. “The board of commissioners of each fire district shall hold a public hearing during the third week of October to discuss the contents of the proposed budget.” N.Y. Town Law § 181 (McKinney)

The obligation outlined by the statute isn’t individualized for members of the Board; instead, it’s collectively assigned to the Board as a whole entity. General Construction Law § 41 not only provides the definition of a “quorum” but also emphasizes that when a responsibility is mandated for the public body, a quorum of that body must assemble to fulfill that obligation.

  • 41. Quorum and majority Whenever three or more public officers are given any power or authority, or three or more persons are charged with any public duty to be performed or exercised by them jointly or as a board or similar body, a majority of the whole number of such persons or officers, gathered together in the presence of each other or through the use of videoconferencing, at a meeting duly held at a time fixed by law, or by any by-law duly adopted by such board or body, or at any duly adjourned meeting of such meeting, or at any meeting duly held upon reasonable notice to all of them, shall constitute a quorum and not less than a majority of the whole number may perform and exercise such power, authority or duty. For the purpose of this provision the words “whole number” shall be construed to mean the total number which the board, commission, body or other group of persons or officers would have were there no vacancies and were none of the persons or officers disqualified from acting. N.Y. General Construction Law § 41 (McKinney)

Therefore, if any statute directs a Board of Fire Commissioners as a public body to conduct a public hearing, a quorum of the Board must assemble to conduct the hearing. If less than a quorum of the Board appears at the hearing, the hearing cannot be held.