January 18, 2001
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 of December 11. You have questioned whether you are entitled
to "a separate copy" of minutes of executive sessions held by a town board.
In this regard, I direct your attention to §106 of the Open Meetings Law which provides that:
"1. 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.
2. Minutes shall be taken at executive sessions of any action that is
taken by formal vote which shall consist of a record or summary of
the final determination of such action, and the date and vote thereon;
provided, however, that such summary need not include any matter
which is not required to be made public by the freedom of information law as added by article six of this chapter.
3. Minutes of meetings of all public bodies shall be available to the public in accordance with the provisions of the freedom of information law within two weeks from the date of such meetings except that minutes taken pursuant to subdivision two hereof shall be available to the public within one week from the date of the executive session."
In view of the foregoing, as a general rule, a public body may take action during a properly convened executive session [see Open Meetings Law, §105(1)]. If action is taken during an executive session, minutes reflective of the action, the date and the vote must be recorded in minutes pursuant to §106(2) of the Law. If no action is taken, there is no requirement that minutes of the executive session be prepared.
It is noted that minutes of executive sessions need not include information that may be
withheld under the Freedom of Information Law. From my perspective, even when a public body makes a final determination during an executive session, that determination will, in most instances, be public. For example, although a discussion to hire or fire a particular employee could clearly be discussed during an executive session [see Open Meetings Law, §105(1)(f), a determination to hire or fire that person would be recorded in minutes and would be available to the public under the Freedom of Information Law. On other hand, if a public body votes to initiate a disciplinary proceeding against a public employee, minutes reflective of its action would not have include reference to or identify the person, for the Freedom of Information Law authorizes an agency to withhold records to the extent that disclosure would result in an unwarranted personal privacy [see Freedom of Information Law, §87(2)(b)].
Lastly, I point out that a public body must approve a motion, in public, before entry into an
executive session, and that the motion must include reference to the "general area or areas of the subject or subjects to be considered..." [Open Meetings Law, §105(1)]. Since a motion to enter into executive session must be made during an open meeting, and since §106(1) requires that minutes include references to all motions, the minutes of an open meeting must always include an indication that an executive session was held, as well as the reason for the executive session.
I hope that the foregoing serves to clarify your understanding of the Open Meetings Law and that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Town Board