Executive sessions: What are they all about?

By The Curry Coastal Pilot April 20, 2011 04:00 am

A recent executive session in which Brookings-Harbor School Board members discussed personnel has sparked questions among readers about the nature of such closed-door meetings. We would like to explain the legality of these sessions and the Pilot’s policy about covering them.

Oregon’s public meeting laws permit governing bodies to meet in executive session, outside of public view, about a limited number of topics. These meetings are limited to deliberations. The board must return to public session before making a final decision or taking a final action.

Executive sessions are open to media in most cases. The exceptions are when a council or board is holding strategy discussions with labor negotiators, talking about student expulsion, and consulting with counsel concerning litigation to which the newspaper or a newspaper representative is a party.

The board may require specific information in executive session not be reported by the Pilot. This should be done by declaration of the chairman, as it usually is, or a board vote. In the absence of this directive, the executive session may be reported.

The Pilot, in following the spirit of the Oregon public meeting laws, understands that most information or comments made during executive session are not for publication. The exception is any discussion of topics apart from those legally justifying the executive session.

Also, the Pilot is free to report on information gathered outside of an executive session, even though the information was the subject of an executive session. For example: A reporter attends the executive session on the school board’s discussion of the superintendent’s performance. Afterward, the reporter asks a board member what she thinks of the superintendent’s performance. She shares her criticism or accolades. The reporter may use that interview to develop a story, even though the reporter first heard the information at the executive session.

Overall, the Pilot has had few reasons to question how local boards, councils and commissions conduct and act during executive sessions. They all do a relatively good job following the spirit of Oregon’s Public Meeting Law, and that benefits everyone involved.