Monday’s City Council meeting gave me pause to consider how much power and trust we place in the hands of our government, not just locally but at all levels.
It made me proud to know that we do have people on the council that will stand up for public rights.
What I am referring to is not so much what transpired at the meeting, who voted for/against modifying the agenda, etc., but rather the assertion by Councilman Dana Dawson that our city council could not go into executive session to receive information and discuss departmental policies. He is absolutely right.
There are only seven subjects that can precipitate an executive session: 1. Personnel matters of non-elected personnel (related specifically to identified individuals impacting his/her employment); 2. Consultations with an attorney for the body that would be considered privileged in the attorney-client relationship (individuals cannot be invited that would normally nullify attorney-client privilege); 3. Matters relating to employer-employee negotiations; 4. Confidential data relating to financial affairs or trade secrets of corporations, partnerships, trusts or individual proprietorships (company names, complaints, inquiries, etc. do not qualify for exemption); 5. Matters relating to actions adversely or favorably affecting a person as student, patient or resident of a public institution (although that person may request a public hearing); 6. Preliminary discussions relating to the acquisition of real property; and 7. Security matters relating to a public body or agency.
These are the only subjects which allow a governing body in Kansas to go into executive session and the only subjects that may be discussed (and only if they were identified in the motion to go into executive session). For example, you may not go into executive session to discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel and while in executive session have discussions about acquiring a property. The governing body must come out of executive session, and reenter executive session with a new (passing) motion. Not only that, but if the subject is not one of the exemptions (such as when to hold the next meeting or what to serve at the employee luncheon), it is a violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act to discuss it in an executive session. We have to trust and depend on our elected officials to uphold the law during closed sessions.
A few more important things. In order to go into executive session, a motion by the governing body must be made (and approved by the body) that states the justification for moving into a closed session, the subjects to be discussed secretly and the time and place the body will reconvene into open session. Also important to note is that the public body is not allowed to take any binding action in executive session. Binding action can only take place in a public meeting.
Finally, it is not illegal for a member of a governing body to disclose what was discussed in an executive session. In fact, if a violation occurred, it is important for the member to disclose that fact — it’s what we trust them to do. Obviously it would not be prudent if a member shared legitimate executive session information, especially if it compromises the governmental entity, but it is not illegal and most boards have censuring policies for those types of disclosures.
Thank you Councilman Dawson for letting the sunshine in.
Mary Hoisington is the publisher of the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.