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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Radical idea from Oregon–let reporters sit in on executive sessions of public agencies

December 14th, 2012 · 6 Comments

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.

Tags: Blogs · Media · Sunshine

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugh Clark // Dec 14, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    Sounds like a fine idea.

    Many people outside of Hilo do not know that retired Judge Shunichi Kimura used to invite reporters into his chamber conferences with attorneys. (Those from off island were advised of who was sitting behind his desk by telephone at the outset.)

    Nothing untoward happened and reporters were more confident and informed of his rulings as they were made.

    I am unaware of any other jurist who did this, though Nelson Doi often explained cases after bench and chamber confereces when he was on he bench.

    Let the sunshine in!

  • 2 Geastrum // Dec 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    This is perhaps the most exciting proposal that I have ever heard in a long time, perhaps because it goes against the grain of the political culture. Some people who make a fetish of technology become fascinated with mega-projects, but this is the real game changer. But I wonder with media consolidation locally, and especially with a vulnerable newspaper that seems to assiduously court the local powers that be, whether or not the local media would actually desire this kind of inside peek at decision making. That’s how much the media, and our ‘democracy’, have changed.

  • 3 Holly Huber // Dec 14, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    The Hawaii State Board of Education appears to do most of its work in Executive Session BEFORE the public agenda. Our appointed BOE calls the meeting to order and immediately kicks out everyone for executive session that lasts from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The executive session agenda boilerplate and the public agenda is vague. Anyone wishing to provide testimony must speak on an agenda item BEFORE that agenda item is discussed. It’s a bizarre system that seems designed to dissuade people from attending the Tuesday afternoon meetings.

  • 4 cwd // Dec 14, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    And then there are the Board of Regemts meetings.

    My personal opinion is that (real) reporters should be allowed to attend; however, I am not sure that bloggers should be allowed in. Would that be the blog host or someone like myself?

    Some of the people who post on blogs hosted by reporters are barely capable of writing. Others use the the blogs to go after people they don’t like.

    Maybe access to executive sessions should be restricted to (real) reporters and hosts like Ian s

  • 5 cwd // Dec 14, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    Whoops!! Board of REGENTS; Ian.

  • 6 j2hilo // Dec 15, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Just as many of us don’t entirely trust what occurs during government ‘executive sessions,’ I also have very little trust in certain members of the media to give us an objective reading of what occurs behind closed doors. Personally, I would rather have a lawyer from OIP required to be there, with the authority to publish violations viewed. I realize this would mean beefing up the office of OIP, but they are the experts on the Sunshine Law, not the media.

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