March 27, 2009
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 correspondence concerning the status of a particular library board of trustees under the Open Meetings Law.
As I understand the matter, the Women’s Round Lake Improvement Society obtained a charter for the creation of an association library and designates a “committee” that serves as the board of trustees of the library. The materials relating to the matter that you forwarded, in my view, indicate a misunderstanding of the law. I believe that there has been confusion concerning the obligation of association libraries to disclose records and conduct meetings open to the public. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, with respect to access to records, the Freedom of Information Law is applicable to agencies, 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."
Based on the foregoing, an agency, in brief, is an entity of state or local government. Association libraries are typically not-for-profit corporations. Although they may receive funding from the government, they are independent of the government, and the members of their governing bodies are not appointed by the government. That being so, I do not believe that association libraries are “agencies” or, therefore, that they are required to give effect to the Freedom of Information Law.
Second, with respect to the public’s right to attend meetings, the Open Meetings Law pertains to public bodies, and §102(2) of that 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."
Like the Freedom of Information Law, the Open Meetings Law generally applies to governmental bodies. School district public libraries, as well as city, town and other municipal libraries are governmental entities, and their boards of trustees are, in my view, clearly public bodies required to comply with the Open Meetings Law. The boards of private, not-for-profit corporations typically are not required to comply with the Open Meetings.
Nevertheless, third and most significantly, due to the direction provided by a different statute, §260-a of the Education Law, I believe that the boards of trustees of association libraries, as well as certain other non-governmental library boards of trustees, are required to comply with the Open Meetings Law, which is Article 7 of the Public Officers Law. Section 260-a states that:
"Every meeting, including a special district meeting, of a board of trustees of a public library system, cooperative library system, public library or free association library, including every committee meeting and subcommittee meeting of any such board of trustees in cities having a population of one million or more, shall be open to the general public. Such meetings shall be held in conformity with and in pursuance to the provisions of article seven of the public officers law. Provided, however, and notwithstanding the provisions of subdivision one of section ninety-nine of the public officers law, public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least two weeks prior thereto shall be given to the public and news media at least one week prior to such meeting."
A careful review of the language quoted above indicates that meetings of boards of trustees of various kinds of libraries, including meetings of boards of trustees of association libraries, must be held in accordance with the Open Meetings Law.
Committees and subcommittees of boards of trustees in cities with a population of a million or more, i.e., those in New York City, must also conduct their meetings in compliance with the Open Meetings Law. Committees and subcommittees of association library boards of trustees that serve anywhere but New York City are not required to comply with the Open Meetings Law. This is not to suggest that committees and subcommittees of boards of trustees of association libraries cannot conduct their meetings in public, but rather that they are not required to do so.
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Gary Putman