The Attorney General’s Office recently issued a non-binding opinion concluding that a board of education improperly discussed matters in closed session that were not within the scope of the exceptions on which the board relied when entering closed session. This opinion letter was issued in response to a request for review alleging that the board held an improper closed session discussion about a budget deficit reduction plan.
For the meeting in question, the board meeting minutes stated that the board entered closed session to consider matters regarding “the appointment employment or dismissal of specific employees,” “collective bargaining matters,” and “litigation,” pursuant to sections (1), (2) and (11) of the OMA. The Attorney General’s Office reviewed the verbatim recording of the 49-minute long closed session and found the board spent over 46 minutes discussing payment to and negotiations with certain architects and engineers, and spent the last 2 and a half minutes discussing employment matters of specific employees. While the Attorney General’s Office found the board did not discuss the budget deficit reduction plan as alleged in the request, it did find that none of the topics discussed during those 46 minutes fell within the scope of the board’s cited exceptions to the general requirement that public bodies discuss public business openly. As a result, the Attorney General’s Office found the board violated the OMA by improperly discussing those payment and negotiation matters within closed session.
Here, the board remedied its violation by agreeing to make that portion of the closed session recording cited by the Attorney General’s Office public. The board president, superintendent, and district administrators also underwent a comprehensive OMA in-service training. This opinion letter serves as a reminder for boards to identify the proper exceptions under which they enter closed session and to carefully confine their discussions to those topics. Boards should also remember that the OMA only permits boards to discuss attorneys and actual employees of the public body during closed session under the Section 7(1)(a) exemption, and that discussing independent contractors is not an appropriate topic for closed session.