October 20, 2005
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
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.
As you are aware, I have received your letter. Please accept my apologies for the delay in response.
You serve as an elected justice in the Town of Madison, and you asked whether a town board may "discuss matters concerning another elected official in closed meetings." In my view, the answer is dependent on the specific nature of the discussion.
By way of background, as a general matter, the Open Meetings Law is based on a presumption of openness. Stated differently, meetings of public bodies, such as town boards, must be conducted open to the public, unless there is a basis for entry into executive session. Paragraphs (a) through (h) of §105(1) of that statute specify and limit the grounds for conducting an executive session. From my perspective, the only possible ground for entry into executive session in the situation that you described would be §105(1)(f), which permits a public body to conduct 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...
Although the provision quoted above is often cited in relation to "personnel matters", I note that its language does not refer to employees only; rather, it pertains to certain subjects as they relate to a "particular person." In the context of your inquiry, it would appear that §105(1)(f) could be asserted only to the extent that the Board discussed "matters leading to" your "discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal." If that is so, a separate question arises concerning the authority of a town board. Since I am not an expert concerning the powers and duties of town boards, I cannot offer unequivocal guidance. The question involves whether a town board has the authority to seek to discipline, suspend, dismiss or remove a town justice. If it possesses authority of that nature, I believe that an executive session could properly be held under §105(1)(f). However, if no such authority exists, it does not appear that an executive session could properly be held to discuss the issues that you described.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
cc: Town Board