Settlement improves access to meetings

NEW YORK — A New York Supreme Court judge approved a settlementin August reached between the City University of New York and two men whoaccused the board of regents of violating the state open-meetings law.

William Crain, a CUNY professor, and David Suker, a graduate studentfrom the university, withdrew their lawsuit against CUNY after reachinga settlement Aug. 14 that will ensure the public has access to the universityísboard meetings as well as a place to sit or stand.

“I believe the settlement is very fair and benefits the entire CUNYcommunity,” said Ron Minkoff, Crain’s attorney, in a press release. “Itsupports a law that is central to a democratic society.”

Under the settlement, the public is ensured a specific number of seatsand standing spaces at all CUNY board meetings. With the exception of mediaand some CUNY administrative staff members, the seats at the meetings willbe available to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. Previously,CUNY faculty and staff members often took up most of the seats in the board’smeeting room, which could only seat about 50 people.

As another safeguard for future potential audiences, if 68 people speakat any public hearing prior to a board meeting, the meeting will be movedto a larger auditorium in Manhattan. There will also be a limit of onemeeting per year held at a location outside Manhattan that is inaccessibleby subway.

The lawsuit stemmed largely from one meeting that drew a larger audiencethan usual because of a controversial vote on the elimination of CUNY’sremedial programs. The room was too small for the number of people in attendanceand when members of the audience protested the board’s plan to remove theremedial programs, chanting phrases like “save our children,” board membersthreatened police action if the dissenters did not leave the meeting. ThoughCrain left the meeting, several people were arrested for staying, includinga Franciscan nun.

“The room was just jammed,” Crain said about the May 1998 meeting.