November 17, 1994
Mr. Paul G. Wheeler
Concerned Residents of New Lebanon
PO Box 681
New Lebanon, NY 12125
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence. Dear Mr. Wheeler:
I have received your letter of October 18. In your capacity as president of the Concerned Residents of New Lebanon (C.R.O.N.L.), you requested an advisory opinion concerning the Open Meetings Law.
You referred to a meeting of the New Lebanon Town Board during which the Board sought to enter into an executive session to interview candidates who expressed interest in or who had been asked to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals. You objected based on several contentions, particularly that the issue did not involve a "personnel matter".
In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, as a general matter, the Open Meetings Law is based on a presumption of openness. Stated differently, meetings of public bodies must be conducted in public except to the extent that an executive session may appropriately be held. Paragraphs (a) through (h) of §105(1) of the Open Meetings Law specify and limit the subjects that may properly be considered during an executive session.
Second, although it is used frequently, the term "personnel" does not appear in the Open Meetings Law. Some so-called personnel matters may validly be discussed in private; others may not. Further, the language of the provision cited to discuss personnel matters does not necessarily deal with those matters. Specifically, §105(1)(f) of the Open Meetings Law permit a public body to enter into an executive session to discuss:
"the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation..."
While I agree that the issue in question did not constitute a personnel matter, I believe that it would have involved a matter leading to the appointment of a particular person. Therefore, even though some of your contentions may have merit, I believe the Board could validly have conducted an executive session pursuant to §105(1)(f) of the Open Meetings Law.
Lastly, even though a public body may conduct an executive session to discuss a certain matter, as in this instance, it is not obliged to do so. In other words, the Board could have chosen to conduct the interviews in public, despite its authority to do so in an executive session.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
RJF:pb cc: Town Board