April 3, 1997
Ms. Mary Beth Kearns
69 Reid Avenue
Rockville Centre, NY 11570
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Ms. Kearns:
I have received your letter of March 18. You wrote that the Village of Rockville Centre "apparently has denied" your request for minutes of a recent meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals. You were informed that "the ZBA minutes have not been transcribed...[but] can be ordered directly from the stenographer." Further, it appears that the fee for the transcript if acquired from the stenographer would be $4.50 per page.
You have sought my views on the matter. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, it is noted that the Open Meetings Law offers direction on the subject and provides what might be characterized as minimum requirements concerning the contents of minutes. Specifically, §106 of that statute states that:
"1. Minutes shall be taken at all open meetings of a public body which shall consist of a record or summary of all motions, proposals, resolutions and any other matter formally voted upon and the vote thereon.
2. Minutes shall be taken at executive sessions of any action that is taken by formal vote which shall consist of a record or summary of the final determination of such action, and the date and vote thereon; provided, however, that such summary need not include any matter which is not required to be made public by the freedom of information law as added by article six of this chapter.
3. Minutes of meetings of all public bodies shall be available to the public in accordance with the provisions of the freedom of information law within two weeks from the date of such meetings except that minutes taken pursuant to subdivision two hereof shall be available to the public within one week from the date of the executive session."
Based on the foregoing, it is clear that minutes need not consist of a verbatim account of every comment made at a meeting. It is also clear that minutes must be prepared and made available within two weeks.
While there may be a need on the part of the Zoning Board of Appeals to have a transcript, I do not believe that such a need in any way diminishes its responsibility under the Open Meetings Law to prepare minutes and disclose them within two weeks.
Second, the Village, in my opinion, cannot charge more than twenty-five cents per photocopy for the contents of the transcript.
The Freedom of Information Law pertains to agency records, and §86(4) of that statute defines the term "record" expansively to mean:
"any information kept, held, filed, produced, reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes."
Due to the breadth of the definition, a record produced "for" an agency, such as a transcript of a meeting produced by a stenographer for the Village, would in my view constitute an agency record that falls within the coverage of the Freedom of Information Law.
Section 87(1)(b)(iii) of the Freedom of Information Law provides that an agency may charge up to twenty-five cents per photocopy for records up to nine by fourteen inches, unless a different fee is prescribed by statute. I know of no statute that would authorize the Village to assess a fee higher than twenty-five cents per photocopy. Therefore, irrespective of the rate paid by the Village to the stenographer for the preparation of a transcript, I believe that, once prepared, the transcript would constitute a Village record and that the fee for photocopies could not exceed twenty-five cents per photocopy. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Zoning Board of Appeals