State of Rhode Island



150 South Main Street- Providence, Rl 02903

(401) 274-4400


Peter F. Neronha


Attorney General





May 19, 2023

ADV OM 23-02


Jason C. Preciphs, Esquire



In Re: Foster Center Volunteer Fire Company


Dear Attorney Preciphs:


The review of your request for an Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) advisory opinion is complete.


In your capacity as Associate Member and legal counsel for the Foster Center Volunteer Fire Company (“FCVFC”), you have requested an OMA advisory opinion from this Office. You sought this Office’s advice concerning the applicability of the OMA to the FCVFC in light of the circumstances described below.


Specifically, you submit that the FCVFC “is a Rhode Island non-profit, membership controlled corporation/association that is exempt from Federal Income Tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It derives funding from a number of sources, - one of which is a contribution from the municipality in which it has located – but has no taxing authority, is entirety membership controlled, and operates utilizing services of unpaid volunteers.” You provide the following facts to support your position that the FCVFC does not fall within the OMA’s definition of a “public body:”


“1. The FCVFC provides certain fire and emergency rescue services to Foster residents but does not have any fire service agreement with the Town of Foster;

2. the FCVFC also, through cooperative mutual aid, provides certain fire and emergency rescue services to residents of municipalities adjacent to the Town of Foster, (“adjacent Towns”) but does not have any fire service agreement with any adjacent Towns;

3. The FCVFC has no taxing authority over the residents of the Town of Foster, or any other area that it serves;

3. [sic] In the absence of taxing authority, the FCVFC derives its support from the payments made by the Town of Foster, generous private donations, and federal and state grants; and

4. The FCVFC is a tax-exempt organization that is a non-profit organization.”


Moreover, you represent that “the FCVFC is ‘membership controlled’; membership is not subject to any governmental or public approval process. *** Officers of the FCVFC are not elected by the public, or appointed by a subdivision of state of municipal government. FCVFC’s officers are elected by members of the FCVFC. Finally, the FCVFC does not provide salaries, medical benefits, or pensions.”


Along with the arguments provided, you submitted a copy of the FCVFC’s federal income tax forms form 2017-2020, the FCVFC’s Articles of Incorporation (1953), the FCVFC’s Articles of Amendment (1994) and the FCVFC’s bylaws for this Office’s review.


Relevant Law


When we examine an OMA complaint, our authority is to determine whether a violation of the OMA has occurred. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8. In doing so, we must begin with the plain language of the OMA and relevant caselaw interpreting this statute.


We initially observe the purpose of the OMA is that:


“[i]t is essential to the maintenance of a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner and that the citizens be advised of and aware of the performance of public officials and the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-1.


For the OMA to apply, a “quorum” of a “public body” must convene for a “meeting” as these terms are defined by the OMA. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-3; see also Fischer v. Zoning Board for the Town of Charlestown, 723 A.2d 294 (R.I. 1999). As a threshold issue, we must determine whether the FCVFC is a “public body” within the meaning of the OMA. The OMA defines a public body as “any department, agency, commission, committee, board, council, bureau, or authority or any subdivision thereof of state or municipal government[.]” R.I. Gen. Laws § 42- 46-2(5).


We have previously noted that determining whether a particular entity is or is not a “public body” is “a fact-intensive question not subject to ‘bright line’ rules.” See GoLocalProv v. Providence City Council, OM 20-15.


The Rhode Island Supreme Court considered the issue of what constitutes a public body in Pontarelli v. Rhode Island Board Council on Elementary and Secondary Education, 151 A.3d 301, 307-08 (R.I. 2016). There, the Rhode Island Board Council on Elementary and Secondary Education (“RIDE”) created a Compensation Review Committee (“CRC”), which was tasked with reviewing requested and proposed salary adjustments to RIDE employees. Id. at 302-03. The CRC was described as an “‘informal, ad hoc working group with a strictly advisory role’ and with no legal status or authority[,]” and which did not have regular meetings. Id. at 303. The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that the CRC was not a public body, stating:


“[T]he CRC in this case does not meet on a regular basis, nor was the CRC created by an executive order. Instead, the undisputed evidence in this case is that the CRC acted as an informal, strictly advisory committee. Although the CRC was composed of a group of high-level state officials and operated under a charter, these two factors alone are insufficient to place them into the “public body' umbrella. Importantly, the CRC's sole function is to advise the commissioner of RIDE, who in turn has to make a recommendation to the council. At this point in the process, if the commissioner decided to present any proposal to the council for the council's required approval, the public would have an opportunity to be informed of and object to such proposal.” Id. at 308.


Other, non-exhaustive, factors to consider when determining whether an entity is a public body subject to the OMA were set forth in Oliveira v. Independent Review Committee, OM 04-10. These factors include the authority under which the entity was established, “the scope of its stated authority, the nature of the public business delegated to it, and its membership and composition. We have found each of these factors relevant, to varying degrees, in findings issued by this [Office].” See Oliveira v. Independent Review Committee, OM 04-10; see also Arditi v. Governor's State Equity Council, OM 21-32.


In In re: Prudence Island Volunteer Fire Department, ADV OM 16-03, this Office determined that the PIVFD did not constitute a “public body” for purposes of the OMA because of its status as a non-profit corporation without taxing authority and it did not provide any compensation or benefits to its members. The PIVFD did receive some of its funding from the Town of Portsmouth, however much of its financing came from private donations and federal and state grants. The PIVFD Board members were elected by the PIVFD members themselves. See also Schmidt v. Ashaway Volunteer Fire Association, OM 98-33 (finding Fire Association not a public body where it was a “non-business, non-profit corporation”; its members did not receive a salary, medical benefits, or a pension for their services; and the officers were not elected by the public, or appointed by a subdivision of state or municipal government); Lataille v. Primrose Volunteer Fire Association, OM 99-21 (determining Fire Association was not a “public body” since Board members are elected by members of the Fire Department and do not receive a salary, benefits, or pension).




Here, you have submitted substantive facts, arguments and evidence, which we accept as true for the purpose of our analysis. Again, it bears noting that the relevant inquiry is whether the FCVFC is a “public body” as defined by the OMA. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-2(c) (“public body” is defined as “any department, agency, commission, committee, board, council, bureau, or authority or any subdivision thereof of state or municipal government”).


The filings submitted establish that the FCVFC was founded as a non-business nonprofit charitable organization, described as an organization “within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code” in its Articles of Incorporation. There is no Fire Service Agreement with the Town of Foster or the adjacent Towns serviced by the FCVFC. The FCVFC does not have any taxing authority. While the FCVFC does receive some financial support from the Town, among other entities, we have previously observed “that fact alone does not render them subject to the Act.” Schmidt, 97-09. There are no stated salaries, medical benefits, or pensions for members of the FCVFC. Positions within the FCVFC, including the Officers, are elected by members of the FCVFC as enumerated in the FCVFC Corporate Bylaws. There is no indication that any members of the FCVFC are elected by the public or appointed by the Town of Foster. More importantly, the FCVFC was not created by the Town and remains a separate entity from the Town of Foster.


Based on these specific facts, we find that the FCVFC is not a “public body” within the meaning of the OMA. Our decision is controlled in large part through our precedent as described above, as well as Rhode Island Supreme Court precedent.


This advisory opinion is based upon the specific facts as you related. If the facts should differ in any respect, it may affect this Office’s interpretation and ultimate opinion regarding the applicability of the OMA.


We note that the OMA is a floor and not a ceiling. Even if the FCVFC is not legally obligated to comply with the provisions of the OMA, we encourage entities like the FCVFC to adopt the types of measures set forth in the OMA when it is appropriate to do so to increase transparency and promote open government.


This advisory opinion does not abrogate any rights that the Office of the Attorney General is vested with pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-8 and is strictly limited to this Office’s interpretation of the OMA. This opinion is limited to the narrow issue(s) discussed above and is based upon the information and representations provided by the FCVFC. This opinion does not address the FCVFC’s responsibilities under any other state law, rule, regulation, or ordinance, nor does it shield the FCVFC from a complaint filed in the Superior Court by a member of the public pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 42-46-8, 38-2-8(b). 


We thank you for your interest in keeping government open and accountable to the public.


Very truly yours,





By: /s/ Adam D. Roach

Adam D. Roach

Special Assistant Attorney General




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