September 7, 2004
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the facts presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you indicated that you sent an email to this office several weeks ago in which you raised questions concerning the implementation of the Open Meetings Law by the Lodi Town Board. A review of our files and email indicates that your initial communication was never received.
Your questions relate to executive sessions held by the Town Board, and whether a motion must be made and approved to authorize the attendance of a person other than a Board member to attend an executive session. You referred to executive sessions during which the Town Clerk and the Supervisor-elect were permitted to attend. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
First, the Open Meetings Law requires that a procedure be accomplished, during an open meeting, before a public body may enter into an executive session. Specifically, §105(1) states in relevant part that:
"Upon a majority vote of its total membership, taken in an open meeting pursuant to a motion identifying the general area or areas of the subject or subjects to be considered, a public body may conduct an executive session for the below enumerated purposes only..."
Based on the foregoing, a motion to conduct an executive session must include reference to the subject or subjects to be discussed and it must be carried by majority vote of a public body's membership before such a session may validly be held. The ensuing provisions of §105(1) specify and limit the subjects that may appropriately be considered during an executive session. Therefore, a public body may not conduct an executive session to discuss the subject of its choice.
Second, subdivision (1) of §106 of the Open Meetings Law pertains to minutes of open meetings and states that:
"Minutes shall be taken at all open meetings of a public body which shall consist of a record or summary of all motions, proposals, resolutions and any other matter formally voted upon and the vote thereon."
Based on the foregoing, if a motion is made to enter into executive session, I believe that the motion must be memorialized in the minutes. Further, as indicated above, any such motion must indicate the reason or reasons, and those reasons, in my opinion, must be referenced in the minutes.
Lastly, pertinent to several of your questions is §105(2) of the Open Meetings Law, which provides that: "Attendance at an executive session shall be permitted to any member of the public body and any other persons authorized by the public body." Therefore, the only people who have the right to attend executive sessions are the members of the public body, i.e., a town board conducting the executive session. A public body may, however, authorize others to attend an executive session. While the Open Meetings Law does not describe the criteria that should be used to determine which persons other than members of a public body might properly attend an executive session, I believe that every law, including the Open Meetings Law, should be carried out in a manner that gives reasonable effect to its intent. Typically, those persons other than members of public bodies who are authorized to attend are the clerk, the public body’s attorney, the superintendent in the case of a board of education, or a person who has some special knowledge, expertise or performs a function that relates to the subject of the executive session.
If there is a dispute among the members concerning the attendance of a person other than a member of the Town Board at an executive session, I believe that the Board could resolve the matter by adopting or rejecting a motion by a member to permit or reject the attendance by a non-member at an executive session.
I note that in a recent judicial decision, Jae v. Board of Education of Pelham Union Free School District (Supreme Court, Westchester County, July 28, 2004), it was held that there is no requirement that a motion be made to authorize the presence of persons other than members of a public body at an executive session. The decision states that:
"..the Petitioners’ contention that the Board of Education must specifically identify any individuals invited to attend executive sessions of the Board, is not supported by law. The Public Officers Law specifically prescribes the manner and method by as well as the purposes for which a public body may enter executive session. The requirements include a motion on the public record; ‘...identifying the general area or areas of the subject or subjects to be considered,...’ (Public Officers Law §105). This section of the law specifically does not require that any individuals invited to attend the meeting be set forth in the motion to go into executive session. The language set forth above is also in sharp contrast to the language describing who may attend executive sessions which simply states: ‘[a]ttendance at an executive session shall be permitted to any member of the public body and any other persons authorized by the public body.’ (Public Officers Law §105). If the legislature had intended that the identities of those attending executive sessions be memorialized in the public records of the public body’s meetings, the legislature wuld [sic] have included the necessary language in sub-section 1 of the statute or sub-section 2 of the statute would have included language similar to that contained in sub-section1. Therefore, the Court agrees with the Respondents that they are not obligated to include the identities of all individuals attending executive sessions of the Board of Education in the motion authorizing the executive session."
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Town Board