Board Violated OMA By Failing to List Action Item on Agenda and by Discussing Services Contract During Closed Session

By August 31, 2015 News No Comments

The Public Access Counselor issued a binding opinion that the Village of Blue Mound violated the requirements of the Open Meetings Act by improperly closing a portion of its regular meeting to the public to discuss a proposed police services contract and by failing to include on the agenda the general subject matter of the Board’s final action to approve the police services contract.

At its May 4, 2015, regular meeting the Village Board entered closed session without providing a description of the subject of discussion or citing the relevant statutory exception for entering closed session. Moreover, the agenda for the meeting only listed “executive session,” without further explanation.     During closed session, the Village Board heard a presentation from a representative of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office concerning a proposed contract to provide police services for the Village.  Upon return to open session, the Village Board voted to approve the proposed police services contract.  The agenda also did not contain any reference to the police services contract or police services in general.

First, the PAC found that the Village Board violated OMA by failing to publicly disclose and record in the minutes the specific statutory exception authorizing the Village Board to enter closed session.  The PAC noted that while it is not necessary to indicate in a meeting agenda that a board will enter closed session or the subject to be discussed therein, OMA requires that public body cite the specific exception authorizing its action when it enters closed session.

Next, during the PAC’s review, the Village claimed that the Board entered closed session to discuss “personnel.”  In its opinion, the PAC explained that “personnel” is not an exception to OMA; instead, public bodies may enter closed session to discuss the “appointment, employment, compensation, discipline, performance, or dismissal of specific employees.”

The PAC found that the police services contract was not a proper topic of discussion for closed session because it was being considered as a cost-saving measure, not as a means of addressing issues with specific employees. While the approval of the police services contract may ultimately affect specific employees, the Village Board did not discuss any specific employees in closed session.  For this reason, too, the Village Board violated OMA.

Finally, the PAC found that the Village Board violated OMA by taking final action to approve the police services contract without including any reference to it on the meeting agenda.

This opinion is an important reminder to state the statutory exception for entering closed session at the time that the Board takes action to enter closed session, even if it is not listed on the meeting agenda.  Moreover, this opinion emphasizes the importance of listing the general subject matter of items that may be the subject of final action on the meeting agenda.  Finally, this opinion clarifies that boards may discuss specific employees in closed session but cannot discuss matters that may ultimately affect specific employees, such as a reduction in force, but do not directly concern any specific employees.

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