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
I have received your letter of July 3 and the materials relating to it. You have sought
an opinion concerning the status under the Open Meetings Law of an "intermunicipal group"
consisting of representatives of several entities of local government. The group has met with
officials of the Department of Environmental Conservation to discuss a regional sewer project, and it is your view that a recent meeting may have been closed due to the content of your publication, the Lansing Community News.
As I understand the matter, the Open Meetings Law would not have been applicable.
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."
Based on the foregoing, a public body is, in my view, an entity required to conduct public
business by means of a quorum that performs a governmental function and carries out its
duties collectively, as a body. In order to constitute a meeting subject to the Open Meetings
Law, a majority of the total membership of a public body, a quorum, must be present for the purpose of conducting public business. I note, too, that the definition refers to committees, subcommittees and similar bodies of a public body. Based on judicial interpretations, if a committee, for example, consists solely of members of a particular public body, it, too, would constitute a public body. For instance, in the case of a board of education consisting of seven members, four would constitute a quorum, and a gathering of that number or more for the purpose of conducting public business would be a meeting that falls within the scope of the Law. If that board designates a committee consisting of three members, the committee would itself be a public body; its quorum would be two, and a gathering of two or more, in their capacities as members of that committee, would be a meeting subject to the Open Meetings Law.
Several judicial decisions, however, indicate generally that advisory bodies, other
than those consisting of members of a particular governing body, that have no power to take
final action fall outside the scope of the Open Meetings Law. As stated in those decisions:
"it has long been held that the mere giving of advice, even about governmental matters is not
itself a governmental function" [Goodson-Todman Enterprises, Ltd. v. Town Board of Milan, 542 NYS 2d 373, 374, 151 AD 2d 642 (1989); Poughkeepsie Newspaper v. Mayor's Intergovernmental Task Force, 145 AD 2d 65, 67 (1989); see also New York Public Interest Research Group v. Governor's Advisory Commission, 507 NYS 2d 798, aff'd with no opinion, 135 AD 2d 1149, motion for leave to appeal denied, 71 NY 2d 964 (1988)]. In one of the decisions, Poughkeepsie Newspaper, supra, a task force was designated by then Mayor Koch consisting of representatives of New York City agencies, as well as federal and state agencies and the Westchester County Executive, to review plans and make recommendations concerning the City's long range water supply needs. The Court specified that the Mayor was "free to accept or reject the recommendations" of the Task Force and that "[i]t is clear that the Task Force, which was created by invitation rather than by statute or executive order, has no power, on its own, to implement any of its recommendations" (id., 67). Referring to the other cases cited above, the Court found that "[t]he unifying principle running through these decisions is that groups or entities that do not, in fact, exercise the power of the sovereign are not performing a governmental function, hence they are not 'public bod[ies] subject to the Open Meetings Law..."(id.).
In the context of your inquiry, while the intermunicipal group consists of members of
several public bodies, it apparently does not include a majority of any particular public body.
Further, based on your remarks, it has no authority to take any final and binding action for or on behalf of a municipality. If those assumptions are accurate, the intermunicipal group, in
my view, would not constitute a public body and, therefore, would not be obliged to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
The foregoing is not intended to suggest that the intermunicipal group cannot hold open meetings. On the contrary, it may choose to conduct meetings in public, and similar entities have done so, even though the Open Meetings Law does not require that they do so.
I hope that the preceding commentary serves to enhance your understanding of the
Open Meetings Law and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman