May 8, 2006
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
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.
I have received your letter in which you referred to "a Rochester Area School Health Plan (RASHP) Consortium whose membership includes representatives of 19 Monroe County School districts." You indicated that RASHP is "a health care consortium which has contracted to offer medical and drug benefits to school district employees in the member districts" and meets quarterly. You asked whether the meetings of RASHP are subject to the Open Meetings Law.
If I understand the facts accurately, meetings of the Board of Directors of RASHP fall within the coverage of the Open Meetings Law. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, the Open Meetings Law pertains to meetings of public bodies, and §102(2) of that statute defines the phrase "public body" to include:
"...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."
As I understand the matter, the Board of Directors carries out its duties in accordance with the authority conferred by Articles 5-G of the General Municipal Law and 47 of the Insurance Law. With respect to the former, §119-o(1) of the General Municipal states in relevant part that:
"In addition to any other general or special powers vested in municipal corporations and districts for the performance of their respective functions, powers or duties on an individual, cooperative, joint or contract basis, municipal corporations and districts shall have the power to enter into, amend, cancel and terminate agreements for the performance among themselves or one for the other of their respective functions, powers and duties on a cooperative or contract basis or for the provision of a joint service..."
In Article 47 of the Insurance Law, §4701(a) states that:
"Cooperative health risk-sharing agreements allow public entities to: share, in whole or part, the costs of self-funding employee health benefit plans; provide municipal corporations, school districts and other public employers with an alternative approach to stabilize health claim costs; lower per unit administration costs; and enhance negotiating power with health providers by spreading such costs among a larger pool of risks."
Further, subdivision (e) and (f) of §4702 respectively provide as follows:
"(e) 'Municipal cooperative health benefit plan' or 'plan' means any plan established or maintained by two or more municipal corporations pursuant to a municipal cooperation agreement for the purpose of providing medical, surgical or hospital services to employees or retirees of such municipal corporations and to the dependents of such employees or retirees.
(f) 'Municipal corporation' means within the state of New York, a city with a population of less than one million or a county outside the city of New York, town, village, board of cooperative educational services, school district, a public library, as defined in section two hundred fifty-three of the education law, or district, as defined in section one hundred nineteen-n of the general municipal law."
Based on the foregoing, the participants in the consortium have been given the legal authority to create a cooperative health benefit plan in furtherance of their official governmental functions, powers and duties. If that is so, the Board of Directors conducts public business and performs a governmental function for a group of public corporations, i.e., school districts. In short, given the characteristics of RASHP, again, I believe that it is a "public body" required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
Lastly, the foregoing is not to suggest that the meetings of the Board of Directors must be conducted in public in their entirety. As you may be aware, every meeting of a public body is required to be preceded by notice given in accordance with §104 of the Open Meetings Law, and every meeting must be convened as an open meeting. Nevertheless, in view of the functions of the Board of Directors, it is likely that some aspects of its business could be conducted during validly convened executive sessions. For example, there may be instances in which it considers collective bargaining negotiations or the financial or medical history of a particular person. In those kinds of circumstances, executive sessions could likely be held pursuant to §105(1)(e) or (f) of the Open Meetings Law.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
cc: Board of Directors