The personnel exception -- 610.021 (3) -- is one of the most frequently abused exceptions in the
sunshine law. Over the years, I've fine-tuned the language on that statute a couple of times, but
it still is misused by public bodies. And I don't think it's that they misunderstand the language,
but I think it's because they simply don't read the language that is there.
The law is clear that only four discussions are closed -- hiring discussions, firing discussions,
disciplining discussions or promoting discussions. And, then, the discussion cannot be a closed
discussion unless personal information about the employee is being discussed. No personal
information = no closed discussion. Simple as that.
Just today, I got a call about a school board planning to take up a salary schedule in closed
session. The reporter, a diligent reader of the law, brought up that clearly no personal
information was being discussed, and as a result, the item was removed from the agenda. Good
Which raises a second issue -- according to 610.021 (13), salary information is not closed
information to the public. So based upon that standard, there should NEVER be a closed salary
discussion. Of course, that brings cries of agony to public body members who want to talk about
giving a pay raise to an employee being promoted. Can they do that in closed session?
Arguably, no. The two subjects need to be separated for discussion purposes. How many public
bodies follow that fine point in the law? Probably none.
Sometimes I think public bodies forget it is not their dollars they are spending. It's your dollars.
You should have the ability to know how they are spending those dollars. Why do they feel the
need to discuss how they spend those dollars behind closed doors? Shouldn't the public have
some input into that process.
Apparently most of the time, they don't think so.