What is The Open Meeting Act?
With the Board of Education’s decision to close the Technical School here in Centre, I have had several questions regarding the validity of that decision being made in an “executive session.” People ask, “Can the board make that sort of decision outside of an open meeting?” This type of question involves a law in Alabama called the “Open Meetings Act.”
Under the Open Meetings Act, which is located at Alabama Code Section 36-25A-1, a governmental body may hold an “executive session” in a regularly called meeting only for very specific reasons. Otherwise, the governmental body’s discussion and voting must be performed publically, during the meeting.
An “executive session” is a portion of a public meeting where the public is excluded from discussion. Generally (and greatly condensed for purposes of this article), a governmental body can only go in to an executive session for the following reasons:
(1) To discuss the general reputation and character, physical condition, professional competence or mental health of individuals or, subject to some limitation, to discuss the job performance of certain public employees;
(2) When expressly allowed by federal law or state law, to consider the discipline or dismissal of, or to hear formal written complaints or charges brought against a public employee;
(3) To discuss with their attorney the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending or future litigation concerns;
(4) To discuss security plans, procedures, assessments, measures, or systems, or the security or safety of persons, structures, or facilities.
(5) To discuss information that would disclose the identity of an undercover law enforcement agent or informer or to discuss the criminal investigation of a person who is not a public official in which allegations or charges of criminal misconduct have been made or to discuss whether or not to file a criminal complaint;
(6) To discuss the prices regarding the purchase, sale, exchange, lease, or market value of real property.
(7) To discuss preliminary negotiations involving matters of trade or commerce in which the governmental body is in competition with private individuals or entities or other governmental bodies;
(8) To discuss strategy in preparation for negotiations between the governmental body and a group of public employees; or
(9) To deliberate and discuss evidence or testimony presented during a public or contested case hearing;
Other than these eight exceptions, a governmental body may not discuss or deliberate matters outside of the public’s presence. Enforcement of this chapter may be sought by civil action brought in the county where the governmental body’s primary office is located by any media organization, any Alabama citizen, the Attorney General, or the district attorney for the circuit in which the governmental body is located. Upon proof that the governmental body violated the Open Meetings Act, the circuit court shall issue an appropriate final order including, if appropriate, a declaratory judgment or injunction. The court may also invalidate the action or actions taken during a meeting held in violation of this chapter.