October 15, 1998
Ms. Elizabeth Crofut
Canal Side Center
110 N. Main Street
Canastota, NY 13032
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
Dear Ms. Crofut:
I have received your letter of September 30, as well as the materials attached to it. You have sought an advisory opinion concerning the status of the Madison County Head Start Policy Council under the Open Meetings Law.
You wrote that Madison County Head Start is "a program of Cornell Cooperative
Extension Agency of Madison County." The materials that you forwarded indicate that the
Head Start Act, 42 U.S.C §9801 et seq. and the federal regulations promulgated pursuant to the Act require the creation of a policy council, which must have a certain composition and perform a variety of duties.
Based on a decision rendered by the State's highest court, the Court of Appeals, it
appears that a policy council created pursuant to federal law would not be subject to the Open
Meetings Law. The decision dealt with a "laboratory animal use committee" (LAUC) that
was required to be established pursuant to federal law and was instituted at the State
University at Stony Brook, and it was determined that the entity in question fell beyond the
scope of the Open Meetings Law.
That statute pertains to meetings of public bodies, and §102(2) 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."
Following its reference to the definition, the Court found that:
"It is thus evident that the Open Meetings Law excludes Federal bodies from its ambit.
"The LAUC's constituency, powers and functions derive solely from Federal law and regulations. Thus, even if it could be characterized as a governmental entity, it is at most a Federal body that is not covered under the Open Meetings Law" [ASPCA v. Board of Trustees of the State University of New York, 79 NY 2d 927, 929 (1992)].
Due to the similarity relative to the creation and basis for existence between the LAUC and
a policy council, again, it appears that a policy council would not constitute a "public body"
required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
The foregoing is not intended to suggest that the Policy Council cannot hold open meetings; on the contrary, the guidance offered in the materials encourages public participation. Rather, based on the decision cited above, I do not believe that the state's Open Meetings Law would be applicable.
If you would like to discuss the matter, please feel free to call me. I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman