FOIL AO 19797
February 24, 2021
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, except as otherwise indicated.
I am writing in response to your request for an advisory opinion regarding the application of the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) to cooperative library systems. You have asked whether a cooperative library system is subject to FOIL. In our view, a cooperative library system is a government entity performing a governmental function on behalf of the participating counties and as such is subject to FOIL.
As you know, FOIL governs access to “agency” records. Section 86(3) of FOIL defines agency as:
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.
The New York State Education Department (NYSED) charters cooperative library systems pursuant to the requirements in Education Law § 255. A cooperative library system is included in the definition of “public library system” in the NYSED corresponding regulations relating to the approval of such systems:
Public library system means a library established by one or more counties, a group of libraries serving an area including one or more counties in whole or in part, a library of a city containing one or more counties, or a cooperative library system established pursuant to the provisions of section 255 of the Education Law.
8 N.Y.C.R.R. § 90.3 (emphasis added).
The Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Local Government & School Accountability (“OSC”), also has characterized the Ramapo-Catskill cooperative library system as a governmental entity performing an auditable governmental function. In 2015, OSC conducted an audit of the Ramapo-Catskill Library System. The introduction to the audit reads:
A top priority of the Office of the State Comptroller is to help local government officials manage government resources efficiently and effectively and, by so doing, provide accountability for tax dollars spent to support government operations. The Comptroller oversees the fiscal affairs of local governments statewide, as well as compliance with relevant statutes and observance of good business practices. This fiscal oversight is accomplished, in part, through our audits, which identify opportunities for improving operations and Board governance. Audits also can identify strategies to reduce costs and to strengthen controls intended to safeguard local government assets.
Following is a report of our audit of the Ramapo Catskill Library System, entitled Procurement. This audit was conducted pursuant to Article V, Section 1 of the State Constitution and the State Comptroller’s authority as set forth in Article 3 of the New York State General Municipal Law.
Article 3, § 30(3), of the General Municipal Law states that public library systems (which include cooperative library systems) are subject to the reporting requirements of General Municipal Law.
In addition, in 2019, an independent auditor prepared a report relating to the Mid-Hudson Library System, another cooperative library system. The report repeatedly references the “governmental activities” of the cooperative system and refers to the system as a “governmental entity.”
Given all the factors identified above, it is our opinion that cooperative library systems are governmental entities performing a governmental function for the counties in which they operate, and as such are within the statutory definition of “agency” and subject to the requirements of FOIL.
I hope this has been responsive to your inquiry.