4. Executive Sessions
(Going Into Executive Session)
|An executive session is a closed meeting within a public meeting. 1 V.S.A. §
|Boards may not enter executive session without first meeting in
public session and then voting to close the meeting, and then only for very specific
1 V.S.A. § 313(a).
|A motion and vote are essential
prerequisites to entering executive session. A majority of the members of a local board (a
two-thirds majority of a state board) must agree to enter for the reasons stated. This
motion and vote must then be included in the minutes of the meeting, making a permanent
record of the session and its reasons.
The legislature has
identified a number of reasons to enter executive session. One category, which includes
consideration of contracts, civil actions, mediation, arbitration, and labor relations
agreements, requires a special review before executive session is justified. The law
requires the board to conclude that "premature general public knowledge would clearly
place the state, municipality, other public body, or person involved at a substantial
disadvantage" before voting on executive session in these cases.
Other reasons to go into executive session are:
- The negotiating or securing of real estate purchase options;
- The appointment or employment or evaluation of a public officer or
- A disciplinary or dismissal action against a public officer or employee;
but nothing in this sub-section shall be construed to impair the right of such officer or
employee to a public hearing if formal charges are brought;
- A clear and imminent peril to the public safety;
- Discussion or consideration of records or documents that are not public
documents under the access to public records act. However when the board discusses or
considers the excepted record or document it may not also discuss the general subject to
which the record or document pertains;
- The academic records or suspension or discipline of students.
No action may be
taken in executive session. Entering a real estate purchase option is the sole exception.
In all other instances, appropriate topics may be discussed in executive session but
ultimate action must be taken by motion and vote in open session. 1 V.S.A. §
|Abusing the law of executive session is offensive to the
purpose of open meetings. Boards should close their meetings rarely, and then only for
legitimate purposes. If the subject is already well known to the community,
even if the board is able to find a category to cite, there is no justification for
entering executive session.
|Going Into Executive Session
A Board may not go into executive session simply
because it wishes to proceed privately. Rather, it may only exclude the public if it can
point to a specific exemption in the law.
Some boards make the mistake of "warning"
meetings as executive or closed sessions. This is an error because the law requires the
board to move, in open session, to go into an executive session.
A motion to go into executive session must indicate
the nature of the business of the executive session, and this motion must be passed by an
affirmative vote of a majority of the members present (2/3 vote for state boards).
In an executive session only the subject matter
referenced in the motion to go into this session may be discussed.
Attendance in executive session is limited to members
of the public body, and, in the discretion of the public body, its staff, clerical
assistants and legal counsel, and persons who are subjects of the discussion or whose
information is needed.
Minutes do not have to be taken in an executive session. However, if
minutes are taken, these minutes are not public.
No binding action may be taken in executive session
(except those related to securing real estate options).
Rather, all final votes must be taken in open session
and recorded in the minutes of the meeting. 1 V.S.A. § 313(a).