July 26, 2004
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence, unless otherwise indicated.
I have received your letter in which you requested an advisory opinion concerning "the rights of the public to attend board meetings of Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Inc. (SHCC), of Staten Island." You expressed the belief that "[b]ecause public funding and oversight by public agencies is involved", SHCC and other not-for-profit organizations "are bound by the New York Open Meetings Law."
In this regard, the Open Meetings Law is applicable to public bodies, and §102(2) of that statute 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."
From my perspective, the receipt of government funding does not render an entity a public body. Similarly, oversight by the government in my view would not necessarily bring an entity within the coverage of the Open Meetings Law. Private educational institutions, for example, are chartered by the Board of Regents and are, to some extent, overseen by the Board and the State Education Department. Nevertheless, the governing bodies of private educational institutions are not obliged to give effect to the Open Meetings Law, for they do not conduct public business, nor do they perform a governmental function.
In an effort to learn more about SHCC, I reviewed material on its website, which was insufficient to enable me to offer advice. Thereafter, I contacted officials at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. Although it was confirmed that the SHCC receives funding from the City and the City serves as landlord, I was informed that SHCC is a private entity and largely independent. I was also informed that the Mayor of New York City and the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs are ex officio members of the SHCC Board of Directors, but that they cannot vote.
Further, since they consist of only two members within a much larger body, City Officials constitute far less than a majority of the Board’s membership.
In short, based on my understanding of the functioning of the SHCC and its relationship with the government of New York City, its board of directors does not constitute a public body and, therefore, is not required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman