This is a step-by-step How To Guide for non-public sessions of public bodies by public officials.
Prepare for the meeting:
- Plan an agenda of items to consider.
- Identify the statutory exemption for each agenda item.
- If there is no exemption for an item, then do not discuss it in a non-public session.
- Identify agenda items that may justify sealed minutes.
- If there are multiple agenda items and some may be sealed, plan to have multiple separate non-public sessions so only those lawfully exempt discussions are sealed. Even if all of the items may be sealed, they will not all likely be sealed for the same amount of time, and may be unsealed at different times.
- Schedule as you would a public meeting a public room and if needed a private room.
- Send notices.
- At least 24 hours before the meeting. Best practice is at least 3 days before the meeting.
- To each member.
- To any individuals for hearings. This notice should be done long enough ahead of time that the meeting can be posted as a public meeting if the individual chooses to do so.
- Publish to the public.
- Provide backup documents to members securely. Do NOT use email.
- Start from a properly noticed public meeting.
- Explain to the public what you are going to do.
- If there are multiple sessions, identify all of them up front even though the first motion will only cover the first session. Explain that the public is welcome to come back briefly for the intervening public sessions.
- If you might go back into public session at the end, describe that, what you will do and give whatever estimate you can about timing.
- Take a formal vote to enter non-public session
- Moved by one member
- Seconded by another member
- Motion cites the specific RSA exemption
- Motion states the subject of the meeting in general terms
- Must have a quorum present
- Vote by roll call
- Vote must pass by a majority of those present
- Ask the public to leave, or move to another private room.
- Be sure only those allowed to attend are there.
- Govern the meeting the same as a public meeting
- Assign someone to take minutes
- Speakers should be recognized by the chair before speaking
- Decide by deliberating
- Vote on motions made and seconded
- Record all votes in the minutes
- Strictly limit discussion
- Only discuss the subjects identified in the motion to enter non-public session
- Even if a topic could be discussed in non-public, unless it was identified to the public in the motion, then it must not be discussed
- Do not discuss anything else. Do not let your hair down and revisit subjects from the public session now that the public is gone and you can talk freely.
- If someone starts to discuss some other topics, everyone else is obligated to stop it.
- Immediately raise a point of order saying that the topic is not allowed in non-public or was not specifically identified in the motion to enter non-public session.
- If the discussion is not stopped in time, be sure the subject is recorded in the minutes. Otherwise it is falsification of governmental records.
- If a new item comes up that cannot wait until a later meeting, move to exit the non-public session back into public session and make another motion to enter a new non-public session with a new motion to discuss another topic. Since the public is likely no longer in attendance, make an effort to notify the public that it occurred.
- If you need to seal the minutes, deliberate in non-public session about whether to seal the minutes. Wait until back in public session to vote based on these deliberations.
- Move back to public session when done with your business.
- Open the door to the room and invite members of the public to re-enter or move back to the public room.
- Resume the minutes for the public session.
- Take a vote in public to move back to public session. This vote does NOT need to be by roll call.
- If needed, take a formal vote to seal the minutes.
- Moved by one member.
- Seconded by another member.
- Motion should state the statutory exemption that allows the minutes to be sealed.
- The motion should state the expected time period that the minutes would be sealed.
- Vote on the motion.
- Vote by roll call.
- Must have a quorum present.
- Motion passes by 2/3 of those present.
- If the minutes were not sealed and members of the public are present, inform them of actions taken during the non-public session.
- Continue with the public session or adjourn normally.
- After the meeting the minutes for both the public and non-public sessions must be made public. If the non-public minutes were sealed then they should be recorded separately from the public session minutes. They should be reviewed, modified and approved in a subsequent non-public session. They should be maintained separately and securely. If the non-public minutes were not sealed and the public session minutes can be finished as well during the 72 time period, they may be published together as one set of minutes. Otherwise, the non-public and public session minutes should be published separately.
- Members are bound to not disclose the secret aspects of the non-public meeting. Anything in the minutes that are not sealed are public as soon as the meeting is over. As a courtesy, individuals should be notified if they are affected by non-public actions before minutes are published, but the public may rightfully request copies of notes for the minutes as soon as the meeting is done.
- Any discussion not allowed in non-public should not bind members. Others in the meeting are also not bound to secrecy.
Revision Date: 1/1/2017