December 1, 2003
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Chief Attorney
You asked when and for what purpose members of a municipal Board of Selectmen, a public agency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), could hold a caucus.
All public agency meetings, including hearings or other proceedings, must be publicly noticed and open to the public unless closed by a two-third vote of agency members attending a public hearing. The reasons for the closed proceeding (or executive session) must be stated at the public meeting. To meet public notice requirements, agencies must file a schedule of regular meetings, and make their regular meeting agendas, minutes, and member votes publicly available.
However not every public agency hearing or proceeding is a “public meeting.” A caucus of members of a single party agency, whether or not a quorum of the agency, is not a “public meeting.” Thus, the public can be excluded from attending and receiving notice of a caucus. A “caucus” is a convening or assembly of (1) public agency members who are enrolled members of a single political party or (2) the majority or minority members of a multimember public agency who register as a majority or minority caucus, respectively. The agency members who decide to form either a majority or minority caucus must register with:
1. the secretary of the state, if the agency is a state agency;
2. the town clerk or clerk of a political subdivision, if the agency is a local agency; or
3. the town clerk in each town of a multi-town district or agency, such as a regional school district.
Each agency member can register in only one caucus at a time. A member cannot change his caucus affiliation for FOIA purposes for the duration of his term of office and he retains his caucus membership regardless of any change in his political party enrollment.
Unlike executive sessions, which may be held under limited circumstances, a caucus appears to be allowed at any time and for any reason.
Executive sessions may be held to discuss: (1) individual officers or employees (unless the officer or employee asks for a public hearing); (2) strategies and negotiations about pending claims or pending litigation involving the agency or a member; (3) security matters; (4) real estate transactions; or (5) any matter that would result in disclosing a public record that is exempt from disclosure. FOIA specifically prohibits an agency from calling an executive session to receive or discuss oral communication that would be protected by the attorney-client privilege if the agency were in the private sector. But the agency may discuss the communication when a session is called for one of the legitimate purposes listed above.
Business or discussion at an executive session must be limited to the subject(s) covered by the vote to close a portion of the meeting.
The agency may invite people to present testimony or opinions in an executive session, but their attendance must be limited to the time necessary for that testimony or opinion. The minutes must indicate the votes of each member of the agency on any issue. They must also name people who were present, with the exception of job applicants being interviewed (CGS §§ 1-200 and 1-225 to 1-231).