Have you ever been asked to leave a public meeting so that the board could go into “executive session” for discussions out of public view?
If so, you’ve probably also wondered how far afield those secret meetings are able to go, even perhaps circumventing the sunshine law?
I’ve been in that situation a number of times. But here’s something I learned yesterday from Civil Beat’s Nick Grube, who came to Hawaii after a stint as a newspaper reporter in Oregon.
Oregon state law provides that “representatives of the news media” have the right to attend closed executive sessions held by public agencies.
Yes, you read that correctly. Reporters can sit in on executive sessions, provided that they cannot report on the proceedings unless they involve matters not authorized to be discussed in a closed meeting.
Here’s the relevant section from Chapter 192 of the Oregon laws (Section 192.660 ORS):
(4) Representatives of the news media shall be allowed to attend executive sessions other than those held under subsection (2)(d) of this section relating to labor negotiations or executive session held pursuant to ORS 332.061 (2) but the governing body may require that specified information be undisclosed.
(5) When a governing body convenes an executive session under subsection (2)(h) of this section relating to conferring with counsel on current litigation or litigation likely to be filed, the governing body shall bar any member of the news media from attending the executive session if the member of the news media is a party to the litigation or is an employee, agent or contractor of a news media organization that is a party to the litigation.
The exception for meetings under subsection (2)(d) refers to closed meetings for discussions with labor negotiators.
These open meeting provisions apply to the governing body of any “public body.”
Here are the relevant definitions.
(3) “Governing body” means the members of any public body which consists of two or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration.
(4) “Public body” means the state, any regional council, county, city or district, or any municipal or public corporation, or any board, department, commission, council, bureau, committee or subcommittee or advisory group or any other agency thereof.
Hawaii’s sunshine law should be amended to provide a similar provision as a safeguard against abuse of the executive session privilege.
There has been controversy over whether or when bloggers must be considered members of the news media for purposes of sitting in on executive sessions, but I didn’t have time this morning to track down the current status of this debate.