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April 17, 1996

 

 

Hon. Linda H. Mitchell
Village Clerk
Village of Sands Point
P.O. Box 188
Port Washington, NY 11050

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. Mitchell:

I have received your letter of April 9 in which you referred to an article that appeared in the Port Washington News. In the article includes a comment that "since the Port Washington Fire Department is federated and incorporated under a unique central district, they are not required to hold public budget meetings." You have asked whether "it is true" that Port Washington Fire District is exempt from the coverage of the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Laws.

In this regard, it is likely in my view that the Port Washington Fire District is required to comply with both statutes.

The Open Meetings Law pertains to meetings of public bodies, and §102(2) of the Law defines the phrase "public body" 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."

Section 174(6) of the Town Law states in part that "A fire district is a political subdivision of the state and a district corporation within the meaning of section three of the general corporation law". Since a district corporation is also a public corporation [see General Construction Law, §66(1)], a board of commissioners of a fire district in my view is clearly a public body subject to the Open Meetings Law.

The Freedom of Information Law is applicable to agency records, and §86(3) of that statute defines the term "agency" to mean:

"any state or municipal department, board, bureau, division, commission, committee, public authority, public corporation, council, office or 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."

Again, a fire district is a public corporation. Consequently, I believe that it is an "agency" required to comply with the Freedom of Information Law.

While I am unfamiliar with the specific entity to which the article refers, I point out that §66 of the General Construction Law includes a series of definitions and states that:

"3. A 'district corporation' includes any territorial division of the state, other than a municipal corporation, heretofore or hereafter established by law which possesses the power to contract indebtedness and levy taxes or benefit assessments upon real estate or to require the levy of such taxes or assessments, whether or not such territorial division is expressly declared to be a body corporate and politic by the statute creating or authorizing the creation of such territorial division.

4. A 'public benefit corporation' is a corporation organized to construct or operate a public improvement wholly or partly within the state, the profits from which inure to the benefit of this or other states, or the people thereof."

In addition, subdivision (1) of §66 defines the phrase "public corporation" to include "a municipal corporation, a district corporation, or a public benefit corporation." If the entity in question is a district corporation or a public benefit corporation, it would constitute a "public corporation" that clearly falls within the coverage of the open government laws. I hope that I have been of assistance.

Sincerely,

 

Robert J. Freeman
Executive Director

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