January 12, 2004
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.
As you are aware, I have received your letter of December 19. You indicated that your local library is a "special district" library with the authority to levy taxes, and you asked whether it is "legal for a Board appointed Committee to have 5 Board Members on it if the Board numbers nine Trustees total." You also questioned "what kind of notice should one look for concerning the posting of notice of such meetings."
In this regard, first, the Open Meetings Law is applicable to 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 your comments, it appears that the library functions as a district corporation, which, according to §66 of the General Construction Law, is a kind of public corporation. If that is so, its governing body, the Board of Trustees, in my view clearly constitutes a public body required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
Second, when the Open Meetings Law went into effect in 1977, questions consistently arose with respect to the status of committees, subcommittees and similar bodies that had no capacity to take final action, but rather merely the authority to advise. Those questions arose due to the definition of "public body" as it appeared in the Open Meetings Law as it was originally enacted. Perhaps the leading case on the subject involved a situation in which a governing body, a school board, designated committees consisting of less than a majority of the total membership of the board. In Daily Gazette Co., Inc. v. North Colonie Board of Education [67 AD 2d 803 (1978)], it was held that those advisory committees, which had no capacity to take final action, fell outside the scope of the definition of "public body".
Nevertheless, prior to its passage, the bill that became the Open Meetings Law was debated on the floor of the Assembly. During that debate, questions were raised regarding the status of "committees, subcommittees and other subgroups." In response to those questions, the sponsor stated that it was his intent that such entities be included within the scope of the definition of "public body" (see Transcript of Assembly proceedings, May 20, 1976, pp. 6268-6270).
Due to the determination rendered in Daily Gazette, supra, which was in apparent conflict with the stated intent of the sponsor of the legislation, a series of amendments to the Open Meetings Law was enacted in 1979 and became effective on October 1 of that year. Among the changes was a redefinition of the term "public body". Although the original definition made reference to entities that "transact" public business, the amended definition makes reference to entities that "conduct" public business. Moreover, the definition makes specific reference to "committees, subcommittees and similar bodies" of a public body.
In view of the amendments to the definition of "public body", I believe that any entity consisting of two or more members of a public body, such as a committee or subcommittee consisting of members of a library board of trustees, would fall within the requirements of the Open Meetings Law, assuming that a committee discusses or conducts public business collectively as a body [see Syracuse United Neighbors v. City of Syracuse, 80 AD 2d 984 (1981)]. Further, as a general matter, I believe that a quorum consists of a majority of the total membership of a body (see General Construction Law, §41). Therefore, if, for example, the Board consists of nine, its quorum would be five; in the case of a committee consisting of five, its quorum would be three.
When a committee is subject to the Open Meetings Law, I believe that it has the same obligations regarding notice, openness, and the taking of minutes, for example, as well as the same authority to conduct executive sessions, as a governing body [see Glens Falls Newspapers, Inc. v. Solid Waste and Recycling Committee of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, 195 AD 2d 898 (1993)].
With respect to your question, I know of no provision that pertains to the "legality" of designating a committee consisting of five of nine members of a governing body. However, for the reasons discussed in the preceding remarks, I believe that such a committee constitutes a public body required to comply with the Open Meetings Law.
With regard to notice, §104 of the Open Meetings Law states that:
"1. Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before such meeting.
2. Public notice of the time and place of every other meeting shall be given to the extent practicable, to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at a reasonable time prior thereto.
3. The public notice provided for by this section shall not be construed to require publication as a legal notice.
4. If videoconferencing is used to conduct a meeting, the public notice for the meeting shall inform the public that videoconferencing will be used, identify the locations for the meeting, and state that the public has the right to attend the meeting at any of the locations."
In consideration of the foregoing, §104 imposes a dual requirement, for notice must be posted in one or more designated, conspicuous, public locations, and in addition, notice must be given to the news media. The term "designated" in my opinion involves a requirement that a public body, by resolution or through the adoption of policy or a directive, must select one or more specific locations where notice of meetings will consistently and regularly be posted. If, for instance, a bulletin board located at the entrance of a library has been designated as a location for posting notices of meetings, the public has the ability to know where to ascertain whether and when meetings of a board will be held.
I note that a public body is not required to pay to place a legal notice prior to a meeting; it must merely "give" notice of the time and place of a meeting to the news media. Moreover, when in receipt of notice of a meeting, there is no obligation imposed on the news media to publish the notice.
Lastly, if you, for example, have had difficulty gaining entry to a meeting of a committee consisting of Board members, it is suggested that you duplicate and share copies of this opinion with the members. While opinions rendered by this office are advisory, it is my hope that they are educational and persuasive, and that they serve to enhance compliance with and understanding of the Open Meetings Law.
I hope that I have been of assistance.