This statute has been invoked by Fayetteville City Council virtually every time it or members of its Baseball Stadium Committee have met to discuss the proposed ballpark in the last several months. Members have voted to exclude the public and press from the meetings citing an allowable exception in order to discuss an economic development issue, ostensibly the future of a minor league baseball stadium in downtown Fayetteville.
This is the preamble to General Statute 143-318.9: “Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.”
N.C.G.S. 143-318.10 states that “all official meetings of public bodies are open to the public. Except as provided in certain exemptions, each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting.” The statute provides that “every public body shall keep full and accurate minutes of all official meetings, including any closed sessions. Such minutes may be in written form or, at the option of the public body, may be in the form of sound or video and sound recordings. When a public body meets in closed session, it shall keep a general account of the closed session so that a person not in attendance would have a reasonable understanding of what transpired. Such accounts may be a written narrative or video or audio recordings. Such minutes and accounts shall be public records within the meaning of the Public Records Law, provided however, that minutes or an account of a closed session may be withheld from public inspection so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session.”
N.C.G.S. 143-318.11 Permitted Purposes for Closed Sessions: “A public body may hold a closed session and exclude the public only when a closed session is required.” The section of the law cited repeatedly by Fayetteville City Council and its stadium committee states in part that public bodies may meet in closed session “to discuss matters relating to the location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the public body, including agreement on a tentative list of economic development incentives that may be offered by the public body in negotiations.” The subsection concludes with “any action approving the signing of an economic development contract or commitment, or the action authorizing the payment of economic development expenditures, shall be taken in an open session.”
N.C.G.S. 143-318.13 Acting by reference
This little known section of the Open Meetings Law is relevant because of the advent of emails since the statute was adopted. The subsection says “members of a public body shall not deliberate, vote or otherwise take action upon any matter by reference to a letter, number or other designation, or other secret device or method, with the intention of making it impossible for persons attending a meeting of the public body to understand what is being deliberated, voted, or acted upon.” Council members routinely communicate via email whose contents are rarely made public.