February 22, 2006
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 information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter sent to this office in your capacity as a member of the Hauppauge School District Board of Education. You wrote that the Board is planning a meeting during which the members will receive “an overview of our total security systems and procedures”, as well as recommendations for changes. You added that the District’s security officer is reluctant to share “specific information about [y]our security systems” in public, for that “would compromise the ability of [y]our systems to deter wrongdoing.” By means of example, you referred to the possibility of having 100 security cameras, only of 20 of which would be “actually monitored real time”, and that you “count on the presence of those cameras to deter unlawful activity.” Your question is whether that kind of discussion could be conducted during an executive session.
From my perspective, the ability to enter into executive session would be dependent on the specific nature of the matters discussed and the effects of disclosure.
As you are likely aware, the Open Meetings Law is based on a presumption of openness. Stated differently, meetings of public bodies, such as boards of education, must be conducted open to the public, unless there is a basis for entry into executive session. Paragraphs (a) through (h) of §105(1) specify and limit the grounds for entry into executive session. Two of those grounds appear to be pertinent to the issues that you raised.
Paragraphs (a) and (c) respectively permit a public body to enter into executive session to discuss “matters which will imperil the public safety if disclosed” and “information relating to current or future investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense which would imperil effective law enforcement if disclosed.”
Again, the extent to which those provisions would apply would be dependent on the actual nature of the discussion. For instance, if the intent is to have hidden cameras, discussion regarding their placement could enable students and perhaps others to evade effective law enforcement or endanger life or safety. On the other hand, if the cameras are situated in plain sight, public discussion would likely have no harmful effect. Similarly, if it is known which twenty cameras are monitored, a public discussion indicating those locations would enable individuals to evade detection. In that instance, I believe that an executive session could properly be held. Conversely, it if is known that twenty of one hundred cameras will be operating at a given time, but the public is unaware of which twenty will indeed be monitoring activity, public discussion may in actuality discourage activity that may be unlawful or contrary to the District’s rules of conduct or behavior. The possibility of being monitored may deter such behavior and encourage compliance with rules.
In short, insofar as public discussion could enable individuals to evade enforcement of rules of behavior or the law or enable individuals to place themselves or others in jeopardy, I believe that an executive session could properly be held. However, insofar as public discussion would serve to encourage compliance with rules or law, or result in no harm, public discussion would appear to be in the public interest, and no ground for entry into executive session would likely apply.
I hope that I have been of assistance.