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Executive Session Basics

This page provides a general overview of executive sessions as allowed by the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

It is part of MRSC’s series on the Open Public Meetings Act.

For answers to frequently asked questions on executive sessions, see our Executive Session FAQs.



Overview

An executive session, although not defined in the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), is understood to mean the part of a regular or special meeting of a governing body closed to the public.

A governing body subject to the OPMA is allowed to go into executive sessions only for the reasons listed in RCW 42.30.110. Some of the most common reasons for doing so are to discuss:

  • the purchase or sale of land
  • claims (or potential claims) against the agency for property or other damage
  • the qualifications of a potential appointee to fill an elected or appointed position
  • complaints or charges against a public official or employee

No final action can be taken during an executive session. However, in some situations, such as when discussing the price at which property can be purchased or sold or whether a lawsuit should be initiated or settled, preliminary direction may be required to accomplish the purpose of the session. Because the agency cannot make a collective decision in an executive session, one way to get this preliminary direction is for each member to discuss their concerns individually and allow the executive and staff to use that discussion as guidance. Final action must be taken at an open session. See RCW 42.30.060(2)


Executive Sessions and Closed Sessions

Under RCW 42.30.140, the OPMA does not apply to certain types of meetings:

  • licensing,
  • quasi-judicial matters,
  • matters under Administrative Procedures Act, and
  • collective bargaining matters.

Therefore, the public may be excluded from those meetings. If the public is excluded from a meeting that is not subject to the OPMA under this section, then that meeting should be referred to as a “closed” session to distinguish it from an “executive session” under the OPMA.


Attendance

Attendance at an executive session need not be limited to the members of the governing body. Persons other than elected members may attend the executive session at the invitation of the governing body. Those invited should have some relationship to the matter being addressed in the executive session, or they should be in attendance to otherwise provide assistance to the governing body.

If the stated purpose for the executive session is to discuss litigation or potential litigation with the governing body’s attorney (RCW 42.30.110(1)(a)(i)), the presence of persons at the session who are not governing body members or agency staff may cause the agency to waive the attorney-client confidentiality privilege.


Minutes

Minutes are not required to be taken at an executive session. If minutes or notes are taken during an executive session, they may be subject to the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Act, Chapter 42.56 RCW.


Procedural Requirements to Hold an Executive Session

The OPMA identifies specific procedural requirements to follow in order to meet in executive session during an open meeting.

Overview of Procedures

  1. Presiding officer announces the purpose of the executive session. Cite the purpose to the specific subsection of RCW 42.30.110 and briefly describe the reason. It is not necessary to identify specific individuals or case names or numbers (for litigation).
  2. Presiding officer announces the time they will return to open session. Because the statute specifically says, “announce the time” and not “announce the duration,” instead of saying “we’ll be in executive session for 30 minutes” say “we’ll be in executive session until 7:00 pm.”)
  3. Extending the executive session. If the executive session runs long, the presiding officer must come back to the location of the regular meeting and announce the new time the open session will reconvene.
  4. Do not return to open session before the announced time. Some members of the public may have stepped out and not returned until the announced time. Even if you are not taking any action after the executive session, you still need to reconvene in open session to adjourn the meeting at the stated time.
  5. If discussing litigation or potential litigation (RCW 42.30.110(1)(a)(i), make sure your attorney is present.
  6. Remind participants that discussions are confidential. Disclosure of confidential information from an executive session by a municipal officer violates RCW 42.23.070(4). The statute prohibits both the disclosure of confidential information and its use for personal gain or benefit. For more information on confidentiality, see our blog on Executive Sessions and Confidentiality.

Executive Session Script Template

Use this template to ensure that your agency's executive session script complies with the OPMA. This 2021 revision includes added clarifications:

Detailed Checklist and Practice Tips

The checklist below provides a detailed list of the procedural requirements and includes practice tips.

Executive Session Procedures. Use this checklist to guide your agency's compliance with the OPMA requirements for executive sessions. Re-designed and revised with minor clarifications in May 2021.

Download in PDF


Last Modified: June 30, 2021