Quick Guide to the MA Open Meeting Law – Part 2 of 3

WHEN ARE EXECUTIVE SESSIONS OK?

SPECIFIC EXEMPTIONS TO THE OPEN MEETING LAW

Although the Open Meeting Law requires that all meetings by public bodies be open to the public, it recognizes that discussion of certain topics may appropriately be held in executive, or closed, sessions.  The list of valid/approved executive session topics is limited and very specific, and the process for entering executive session is well defined.   

Executive SessionPrior to an executive session, the chair of the public body convenes an open meeting, states the reason for and subject(s) of the executive session, indicates if an open session will be held afterwards, and takes a roll call vote of the public body to enter executive session.

While in executive session, the public body can only discuss the topics specified, can only vote through roll call, and has to keep an accurate record of the meeting.

THE TEN REASONS FOR CLOSING AN OPEN MEETING

1.   To protect the rights & reputation of individuals. Executive sessions can be called to discuss an individual’s reputation, character, health, discipline or dismissal, and charges/complaints against that individual. If unrelated to these topics, discussions regarding an individual’s professional competence, performance, or qualifications are not viewed as an approved Purpose for an executive session.  Under this Purpose, the individual to be discussed is notified at least 48 prior to the executive session and can choose to hold the discussion in an open meeting.

2.   To conduct labor negotiations. Executive sessions are approved for collective bargaining sessions (including grievance hearings), contract negotiations with non-union personnel, and to discuss negotiating strategy with nonunion personnel.  While final contracts & agreements may be agreed upon by the parties in executive session, votes by the public body to approve/ratify such contracts & agreements must take place in open session.

3.   To discuss collective bargaining or litigation strategy. To justify an executive session under this Purpose, the public body must declare that an open public discussion would have a detrimental effect on its negotiating position.

4.   To discuss strategy & deployment of security personnel & devices.

5.   To investigate criminal misconduct or consider filing criminal complaints. Executive sessions are approved for these discussions that generally precede the formal criminal process in court.

6.   To discuss the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property. To justify an executive session under this Purpose, the public body must declare that an open public discussion would have a detrimental effect on its negotiating position.

7.   To comply with a general or special law, or federal grant-in-aid.

8.   To consider/interview employment applicants via a screening committee. If the chair declares that public sessions would be detrimental to attracting qualified candidates, initial screening of employment candidates by a preliminary screening committee may be conducted in executive session for the sole purpose of narrowing the field of applicants down to finalists. The screening committee cannot be comprised of a quorum of the public body, and all discussions following the initial screening must be open to the public.

9.   To confer with a mediator regarding litigation or public business within its jurisdiction. Executive sessions are approved for this Purpose provided the decision to participate in mediation and any resulting actions to be taken are deliberated upon and approved at an open session.

10.   To discuss confidential, proprietary, or competitively sensitive information related to governmental supply of energy. Executive sessions are approved for government energy suppliers, municipal aggregators, and cooperatives provided such discussions are deemed to adversely impact their business via-a-vis other energy providers.

About the Author:  Elizabeth Tice heads up OfficeSolutionsPlusLLC.com, where we provide documents of record for all venues, including Open Meetings, Administrative meetings, executive sessions, court reporting, depositions and public hearings, and transcription of all types.  We understand the importance and value of accurate records.  617-471-3510.  Try us out!

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The preceding is Part 2 of a three part summary-reference series, the OS+ Quick Guide to Massachusetts’ Open Meeting Law.  The topics addressed in the series are:

This Quick Guide is intended for summary reference only and does not purport to comprehensively address all aspects of this law.  For additional and complete details on the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, readers are directed to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s website: http://www.mass.gov/ago/government-resources/open-meeting-law/

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