October 30, 2003
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.
I have received your letter in which you asked whether a public employee may hold two positions. You referred to the Sullivan County Manager and a town clerk serving as "FOIL officer" and to an assistant county attorney and a town board serving as "FOIL Appeals Officer."
In this regard, the functions of a "records access" or "FOIL officer" or that of appeals officer are not generally full time positions; those positions are not civil service titles, and there is generally no restriction on who may carry out those functions.
By way of background, §89(1) of the Freedom of Information Law requires the Committee on Open Government to promulgate regulations concerning the procedural implementation of that statute (21 NYCRR Part 1401). In turn, §87(1) requires the governing body of a public corporation (i.e., a county, city, town, village, school district, etc.) to adopt rules and regulations consistent those promulgated by the Committee and with the Freedom of Information Law. Further, §1401.2 of the regulations provides in relevant part that:
"(a) The governing body of a public corporation and the head of an executive agency or governing body of other agencies shall be responsible for insuring compliance with the regulations herein, and shall designate one or more persons as records access officer by name or by specific job title and business address, who shall have the duty of coordinating agency response to public requests for access officers shall not be construed to prohibit officials who have in the past been authorized to make records or information available to the public form continuing from doing so."
Section 1401.2 (b) of the regulations describes the duties of a records access officer and states in part that:
"The records access officer is responsible for assuring that agency personnel...
(3) upon locating the records, take one of the following actions: (i) make records promptly available for inspection; or (ii) deny access to the records in whole or in part and explain in writing the reasons therefor. (4) Upon request for copies of records: (i) make a copy available upon payment or offer to pay established fees, if any; or (ii) permit the requester to copy those records..."
In short, the records access officer must "coordinate" an agency's response to requests. Frequently the records access officer is an agency officer or employee who has familiarity with an agency's records. For example, the town clerk is designated as records access in the great majority of towns, for he or she, by law, is also the records management officer and the custodian of town records.
When an agency denies access to records, the applicant has the right to appeal pursuant to §89(4)(a) of the Freedom of Information Law, which states in relevant part that:
"any person denied access to a record may within thirty days appeal in writing such denial to the head, chief executive or governing body of the entity, or the person therefor designated by such head, chief executive, or governing body, who shall within ten business days of the receipt of such appeal fully explain in writing to the person requesting the record the reasons for further denial, or provide access to the record sought."
Further, the regulations promulgated by the Committee state that:
"(a) The governing body of a public corporation or the head, chief executive or governing body of other agencies shall hear appeals or shall designate a person or body to hear appeals regarding denial of access to records under the Freedom of Information Law.
(b) Denial of access shall be in writing stating the reason therefor and advising the person denied access of his or her right to appeal to the person or body established to hear appeals, and that person or body shall be identified by name, title, business address and business telephone number. The records access officer shall not be the appeals officer" (section 1401.7).
In consideration of the foregoing, it is clear that a town board, for example, is authorized to determine appeals, or that the head or governing body of an agency may designate a person or body to carry out that function.
I hope that the previous commentary serves to clarify your understanding and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman