New Year, New Council; Same Old Executive Session Mistakes

With the new year, new council members and board of trustee members begin their journey of public service. For these new members, the Ohio Open Meetings Act can seem foreign. The general concept is simple. The Open Meetings Act requires public bodies to take official action and conduct all deliberations upon official business only in open meetings where the public may attend and observe. The exception to the open meeting is an executive session.

Executive sessions are private sessions convened by a public body, after a roll call vote, and attended only by members of the public body and persons they invite. While everyone knows the reasons justifying an executive session, many public bodies still struggle when it comes time to make the motion. “Personnel matters” is not, by itself, enough to retreat behind the closed doors of an executive session. Nevertheless, I often see meeting minutes that say just that. R.C. 121.22(G)(1) allows for an executive session to discuss “certain personnel matters, including appointment, promotion, dismissal and compensation of a public employee or official.” The motion to adjourn into executive session must specify the particular personnel matters but need not include the name of the person involved. Your motion, therefore, cannot be vague. It cannot say “personnel matter” and it cannot list everything in R.C. 121.22(G)(1).

A more appropriate and legally sufficient motion would say something like “to consider the promotion and compensation of a public employee.” And remember, the privacy afforded to executive session discussions does not automatically impart confidentiality on any documents or discussion. Make certain all your new council members and trustees understand the Open Meetings Act and executive sessions. Learning it today will avoid headaches tomorrow.