Judge says SUNY affiliate must open board meetings

NEW YORK — A student at the State University of NewYork at Albany won a partial victory on July 25 when a trail courtfound the University Auxiliary Services, a group that runs thecampus food service and bookstore, to be in violation of stateopen-meetings laws.

Tony Gray sued the university-affiliated nonprofit company in February2002 after being denied access to its board meetings. Gray hadasked the court to rule that the organization is a public body, whichwould require it to hold open meetings. He also asked the courtto declare a vote to raise food prices invalid because it wasmade during a closed meeting and to require the company to refundthe money it made because of the increase.

Although the court declared the University Auxiliary Servicesto be a public body, it did not find that any money should berefunded following the vote to raise prices.

Gray said he was pleased that the judge declared the organizationa public body. In the decision, Judge Thomas J. McNamara saidthe company was acting on behalf of a government body to performessential services, and therefore was serving the public.

"Inasmuch as the operation of the University at Albanyis a governmental function, the transfer of significant powerover that operation with minimum control over its exercise, leadsto the conclusion that [University Auxiliary Services] performsa governmental function," McNamara wrote in the decision.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Committeeon Open Government, said the judge made a good decision in declaringthe organization to be a public body.

"Because this really was an extension of the government,because it performs the kind of functions that the governmentwould typically perform, at least in the context of a state university,my opinion was of course it’s covered by the open-meetings law.And the judge reached the same conclusion," Freeman said.

Although the University Auxiliary Services lost on the open-meetingsaspect of the case, the organization hailed the ruling in a prepared statement:

"UAS commends Judge McNamara for upholding our actionsas the not-for-profit corporation that oversees a wide range ofservices at the University at Albany. We hope that judge’s determinationwill help to define the role of UAS within the university community."

For Gray, appealing the decision is an option, but he is unsureif it is a risk he wants to take. Although the judge did not decideon his behalf in regard to refunding student money, Gray was happywith other parts of the ruling.

"To me, I thought I won. I didn’t get everything I askedfor," Gray said. "[But] do I want to risk the judgein the appellate division saying, no they’re not a public body?"

Freeman said an appeal by Gray would not be worthwhile. Hesaid case law has shown appellate courts will rarely overturnthe decisions of lower courts on such discretionary issues.

Gray, who represented himself in the case, has 30 days fromthe day of the decision to appeal. Hesaid he is considering his options.

Read about Tony Gray‘s past struggles with the State University of New York at Albany and Hudson Valley Community College.