There's no doubt that there are issues which public bodies need to discuss that are best not brought before the public body in open session. I never would argue that a personnel matter should only be discussed in open session. I don't know a single reporter that would dispute that a personnel discussion is proper in a closed meeting.
The rub is when an exception like that is abused by a public body for a discussion that is totally unrelated to the reason given for the closed meeting. For example, a few nights ago, a city's board of aldermen went into closed session under that exception. Later, the mayor, who was in on the meeting, reported to the local newspaper reporter that the discussion behind closed doors was really about the budget proposal before the body and because he wanted to urge the officials to "keep an open mind" (what perfect phrasing!) about the budget proposals. The mayor was concerned the discussion "might" get into a personnel discussion.
The law is very clear. "Public governmental bodies shall not discuss any business in a closed meeting ... which does not directly relate to the specific reason announced to justify the closed meeting..." it says in Section 610.022.3. A discussion about budget proposals is NOT a discussion about personnel. And a discussion about budget proposals is NOT a discussion about "hiring, firing, disciplining of promoting of particular employees ... when personal information about the employee is discussed...."
This public body violated the law. The mayor would do well to be less concerned about what might be discussed in the open meeting and focus instead on what is permitted to be discussed in a closed meeting. Perhaps in turning over a new leaf for 2011, he can find it within him to read his copy of the sunshine law and ponder a little about what it says about closed meetings!