Ms. Donna K. Hintz
City of Kingston
One Garraghan Drive
Kingston, NY 12401
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, unless otherwise indicated.
Dear Ms. Hintz:
As you are aware, I have received your letter of March 19. You have asked whether in my view the Kingston Local Development Corporation ("KLDC") is subject to the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws. You indicated that the entity in question was formed pursuant to Article XIV of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, that the Mayor of the City of Kingston serves as its president, and that the Mayor is authorized to appoint the members of its board.
In my view, the issue is whether the KLDC is an "agency" for purposes of the Freedom of Information Law or a "public body" for purposes of the Open Meetings Law.
Section 86(3) of the Freedom of Information Law defines the term "agency" to mean:
"any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office of other governmental entity performing a governmental or proprietary function for the state or any one or more municipalities thereof, except the judiciary or the state legislature" [§86(3)].
In this regard, as you suggested, specific reference is found in §1411 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law to local development corporations. The cited provision describes the purpose of those corporations and states in part that:
"it is hereby found, determined and declared that in carrying out said purposes and in exercising the powers conferred by paragraph (b) such corporations will be performing an essential governmental function."
Therefore, due to its status as a not-for-profit corporation, it is not clear in every instance that a local development corporation is a governmental entity; however, it is clear that such a corporation performs a governmental function.
Relevant to your inquiry is a recent decision rendered by the Court of Appeals in which it was held that a particular not-for-profit local development corporation is an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law [Buffalo News v. Buffalo Enterprise Development Corporation, 84 NY 2d 488 (1994)]. In so holding, the Court found that:
"The BEDC seeks to squeeze itself out of that broad multipurposed definition by relying principally on Federal precedents interpreting FOIL's counterpart, the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. §552). The BEDC principally pegs its argument for nondisclosure on the feature that an entity qualifies as an 'agency' only if there is substantial governmental control over its daily operations...The Buffalo News counters by arguing that the City of Buffalo is 'inextricably involved in the core planning and execution of the agency's [BEDC] program'; thus the BEDC is a 'governmental entity' performing a governmental function of the City of Buffalo, within the statutory definition.
"The BEDC's purpose is undeniably governmental. It was created exclusively by and for the City of Buffalo to attract investment and stimulate growth in Buffalo's downtown and neighborhoods. As a city development agency, it is required to publicly disclose its annual budget. The budget is subject to a public hearing and is submitted with its annual audited financial statements to the City of Buffalo for review. Moreover, the BEDC describes itself in its financial reports and public brochure as an 'agent' of the City of Buffalo. In sum, the constricted construction urged by appellant BEDC would contradict the expansive public policy dictates underpinning FOIL. Thus, we reject appellant's arguments" (id., 492-493).
Based on the foregoing, if the relationship between the KLDC and the City of Kingston is similar to that of the BEDC and the City of Buffalo, the KLDC would constitute an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law.
Because the Mayor serves as the president of the KLDC and has the authority to choose the members of its board, it is clear that the City of Kingston exercises substantial control over the KLDC. If that is so, I believe that the KLDC constitutes an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law. In brief, that statute is based upon a presumption of access. Stated differently, all records of an agency are available, except to the extent that records or portions thereof fall within one or more grounds for denial appearing in §87(2)(a) through (i) of the Law.
If the KLDC is an agency that falls within the scope of the Freedom of Information Law, I believe that its board would constitute a "public body" for purposes of the Open Meetings Law. Section 102(2) defines that phrase to mean:
"...any entity for which a quorum is required in order to conduct public business and which consists of two or more members, performing a governmental function for the state or for an agency or department thereof, or for a public corporation as defined in section sixty-six of the general construction law, or committee or subcommittee or other similar body of such public body."
By breaking the definition into its components, I believe that each condition necessary to a finding that the board of KLDC is a "public body" may be met. It is an entity for which a quorum is required pursuant to the provisions of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law. It consists of more than two members. Further, based upon the language of §1411(a) of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, which was quoted in part earlier, and the degree of governmental control exercised by the City of Kingston, I believe that it conducts public business and performs a governmental function for a public corporation, in this instance, the City of Kingston.
Like the Freedom of Information Law, the Open Meetings Law is based on a presumption of openness. Meetings of public bodies must be conducted open to the public, except to the extent that an executive session may be conducted in accordance with the provisions of paragraphs (a) through (h) of §105(1) of that statute. I hope that I have been of assistance. Should any further questions arise, please feel free to contact me.
Robert J. Freeman