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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Executive Session

Every once in a while, a council must go into executive session.

So, what is an executive session? It's got two basic characteristics. First, no observers are present. Generally, only the members of the body, along with their officers (such as the moderator and the clerk of Session) remain in the room. Sessions can allow certain invited guests to be present, but this is uncommon. Second, the proceedings are confidential. No one's supposed to talk to anyone else later about what went on (although members of the body can discuss those things with one another, provided no one else is listening in).

There can be minutes of an executive session, but if there are minutes, they must be kept elsewhere than the regular minutes, because no one is allowed to see them but the members of the body. When it comes time to approve those minutes, the body must go into executive session a second time to do so.

Most Sessions find it easier simply not to pass any motions while in executive session. They talk about what they need to do, then go out of executive session and immediately pass whatever motions are needed. The action they have taken, then, is public, but the reasons behind the action are not.

It's hard to imagine a situation in which a body would need to pass a motion while in executive session, because it's hard to imagine implementing anything that's secret. Generally, the discuss-in-executive-session, then vote-in-regular-session procedure does the trick. Robert's Rules does allow for motions in executive session, though, just in case.

So, when should there be an executive session?

The short answer is, "as seldom as possible." Especially in the church, where transparency is generally the ideal.

Yet, there are situations in which it's a valuable option. Such as discussing delicate personnel matters. Or pondering how to respond to a member who may need ecclesiastical discipline. Or setting a range for bidding on a piece of real estate, when it's not to the church's advantage for a seller to know how high the church is willing to go.

If there are no observers in the meeting-room to begin with, a formal executive session may not be needed. The clerk simply needs to take care to limit what goes into the minutes (although motions must always be recorded). Yet, even if there are no observers to ask to leave the room, an executive session may still be useful, if only to impress upon the Session members the need for confidentiality.

Just one more useful item in the parliamentary toolbox.

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