NYCL AGO 2007-9.

Case Date:December 17, 2007
Court:New York
New York Attorney General Opinions 2007. AGO 2007-9. December 17, 2007Informal Opinion No. 2007-9Kenneth J. Frank Corporation Counsel City of Binghamton City Hall Government Plaza Binghamton, New York 13901-3776Second Class Cities Law § 40; General City Law §§ 20, 20(21), 20(23), 23, 23(1), 23(2), Article 2-A; General Construction Law §§41, 110A city's authority to issue subpoenas for the testimony of witnesses may extend to non-city entities in the course of the city's investigation into matters of concern to the city or its inhabitants. In at least some circumstances, this authority encompasses the authority to subpoena documents. In the absence of other law providing otherwise, this authority may be exercised by the common council by a vote of a majority of the whole council, if the council has previously adopted an ordinance designating itself as the official body vested with this power.Dear Mr. Frank: You have requested an opinion regarding whether a majority of the common council is authorized to issue subpoenas to local not-for-profit corporations that have an insignificant or no financial or contractual relationship with the City. You have explained that the common council is considering issuing subpoenas to local not-for-profit corporations to obtain information regarding the treatment of sex offenders in the City. Your inquiry presents two distinct legal questions - first, whether the City may issue subpoenas to not-for-profit corporations that do not relate to business these corporations have with the City, and second, if so, whether a majority of the common council can exercise this power. As explained more fully below, we are of the opinion that the City may under some circumstances issue subpoenas to non-City entities; that the common council may grant itself the authority to investigate and issue subpoenas; and that this power, if embodied in the common council, must be exercised by an act of a majority of the whole common council unless a different voting strength is provided by other law. Analysis It appears from your letter that the subpoenas would not be issued in the course of an investigation of city employees or departments . Therefore, the authority to issue subpoenas granted the common council by Second Class Cities Law § 40, authorizing the common council to investigate city officers and departments and issue subpoenas for that purpose, is inapplicable.(fn1) Authority for the City to issue subpoenas is also conferred by General City Law § 20. Relevant to the question you pose, that statute provides that, "[s]ubject to the constitution and general laws of this state, every city is empowered . . . [t]o investigate and inquire into all matters of concern to the city or its inhabitants, and to require and enforce by subpoena the attendance of witnesses at such investigations." General City Law § 20(21) . Thus, that section authorizes the city to issue subpoenas only in the course...

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