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Exceptions to Public-Meetings Requirement; Executive Sessions

Not all administrative functions need to be made public.  Laws relating to open meetings in all states have certain exceptions where public participation is not necessary.

Executive sessions do not need to be public.  An executive session is a session where no records of discussions are to be kept.  In an executive session only members who have official reasons to be involved are allowed in the session.  Only the results of such sessions need be published.

Private meetings are not public and can be called to discuss personal matters or matters that can prejudice reputation or character of a person.  Matters involving employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of performance, promotion or disciplining of any specific public officer or employee can be discussed in private sessions.  However, any individual whose rights can be adversely affected can request that the matter be discussed at an open meeting.  It is not mandatory that such matters are only to be discussed in private.  Appointment of a person to fill an elected office will not come under this exception.  Public meetings need not be convened to hold negotiation sessions related to collective bargaining agreement[1] or labor relations.

Administrative agency’s meetings with attorneys to discuss litigation strategy are exempt by open meeting statutes.  This exception is provided only when open discussion can affect the agency adversely.  However, attorney-client privilege exception does not apply to a mere request for general legal advice.  In Claxton Enter. v. Evans County Bd. of Comm’Rs, 249 Ga. App. 870, 873 (Ga. Ct. App. 2001) the court held that default position in statutes that administrative agency’s meetings should be open should be construed widely, and exceptions to this policy related to closed meetings should be narrowly construed.

While an administrative agency is performing an adjudicatory function or investigation on matters in dispute, public meeting laws can be inapplicable[2].  This exception is provided because open discussion can violate an individual’s lawful privilege or lead to disclosure of information or confidentiality protected by law.

The law exempts executive sessions alone from discussions in open meetings.  In cases where open meeting laws allow executive sessions of certain matters, administrative agencies can conduct open meetings for the same matter[3].  When an open meeting law is violated by conducting a private meeting it can be cured by readopting the matter at an open meeting[4].

[1] Gosnell v. Hogan, 179 Ill. App. 3d 161 (Ill. App. Ct. 5th Dist. 1989)

[2] Meyer v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Neb., 1 Neb. App. 893 (Neb. Ct. App. 1993)

[3] Town of Merrillville v. Peters, 655 N.E.2d 341 (Ind. 1995)

[4] McCoy v. Thurston County Sch. Dist. No. 0017, 2001 Neb. App. LEXIS 138 (Neb. Ct. App. June 26, 2001)

Inside Exceptions to Public-Meetings Requirement; Executive Sessions