When can a Board legally, ethically and meet the spirit of the law have SECRET meetings?

Secrecy doesn’t sit well with many Americans.  As President John F. Kennedy said, “The very word, secrecy, is repugnant in a free and open society, and we are as a people, inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.”

Yet secret proceedings are not uncommon in the community association world. Homeowners are often asked to leave for all or parts of board meetings. Minutes of these executive sessions are generally kept secret. At times, boards conduct business by telephone or e-mail to avoid public scrutiny.  

On one level, it’s ironic.  For every board that keeps residents out of board meetings, many others are begging for more homeowner involvement.  Jim Slaughter.com    pdf

Board determines confidentiality

Releasing confidential information could result in claims of defamation, invasion of privacy, violations of statute, etc. The Legislature made such matters confidential for a reason, so boards should be cautious about releasing executive session information.   (davis-stirling.com) *  Privacy  *  SB 563

Davis Stirling – Civil Code

§4935  (a) The board may [not shall or must] adjourn to, or meet solely in, executive session to consider [ONLY]

(b) The board shall adjourn to, or meet solely in, executive session to discuss member discipline, if requested by the member who is the subject of the discussion. That member shall be entitled to attend the executive session.

See also Meet & Confer
1363 (g)
Civil Enforcement $500 penalty for failure to comply old 1363.09  Section 4955 
california condo guru.com

(c) The board shall adjourn to, or meet solely in, executive session to discuss a payment plan pursuant to Section 5665.

(d) The board shall adjourn to, or meet solely in, executive session to decide whether to foreclose on a lien pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 5705.

(e) Any matter discussed in executive session shall be generally noted in the minutes of the immediately following meeting that is open to the entire membership.

Davis Stirling.com on Executive Session

I don’t see ANYTHING in Brown or Davis Stirling that allows Boards to discuss finance or budget in closed session.  If any site visitors have a citation, please put that in comments below.

Links & Resources

1st Amendment Coalition Brown Act Primer 


Child Pages

Point of Sunshine Law’s

The strength of a sunshine law (letting the light come in, so everyone can see)  depends on its exceptions. Every open-meetings act allows public bodies to close meetings or portions of meetings in some circumstances. School boards, for example, typically can close meetings to discuss student disciplinary cases. Most public bodies also can close meetings to discuss pending litigation, the acquisition of real estate, collective bargaining and individual personnel issues. Minutes from these closed sessions, however, generally must be kept and made public if and when the matter discussed is no longer confidential.

Courts across the country have held that public bodies must limit executive sessions to only those matters permitted. Under a circuit court case, Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (1984), for example, federal agencies subject to the Government in Sunshine Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552b, must attempt to segregate non-exempt portions of meetings from exempt portions and close only those portions of meetings involving exempt topics.1st Amendment Center

If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.  Justice Brandeis (sun light foundation.com)

16 comments on “Executive – Secret – Session §4935

  1. An attorney recently asserted something I find inconsistent about what CA Boards can and cannot discuss in Executive Session.

    He cited the Evidence Code sections 950-962 as a reference for his reasoning that is a board wants to talk to him, that becasue he is an attorney, those talks can be considered “legal issues” and so are protected.

    What he seems to be saying is that CA CC 4935 [see above] has a loophole that the board may exploit, even in his absence… if they wish to talk about anything amongst themselves that they can connect, however remotely, to a potential, hypothetical “legal issue”, then it’s fair game. In my view, what he is saying seems to nullify CA CC 4935.

    I also heard it expressed that every attorney might interpret this law differently, and that what is listed as authorized topics in CA CC 4935 is more like “guidelines” than an absolute/objective range of topics.

    Is this correct?

    If this is not correct, how does one go about telling an entire board of people who seem to very stubbornly be clinging to this idea, that they, as well as the attorney, and the manager, are incorrect?

    If seeking injunctive relief in small claims court is the only option, who is the person to serve papers to?

  2. If an HOA board discusses unauthorized topics in Executive Session, and also votes on said unauthorized topics, is the unauthorized business conducted valid, and is the discussion regarding the unauthorized topics required to stay confidential?

    If a board director is concerned about unlawful activity, do they have a duty to bring the matter up in open session?

    • By unauthorized topic, you mean something not allowed per Section 4935 above right?

      I would say the vote is not valid.

      The discussion can’t remain confidential.

      Yes, I would say a board member needs to get this thing fixed.

      Give me a day or so to find the citations. I’m not an attorney and can’t give legal advice.

      • The Board needs to fix this, before someone takes them to court to enforce it!

        Civil Code §4955. Civil Action to Enforce Article.
        [Old: Civ. Code §1363.09(a)-(b)]

        (a) A member of an association may bring a civil action for declaratory or equitable relief for a violation of this article by the association, including, but not limited to, injunctive relief, restitution, or a combination thereof, within one year of the date the cause of action accrues.

        (b) A member who prevails in a civil action to enforce the member’s rights pursuant to this article shall be entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs, and the court may impose a civil penalty of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each violation, except that each identical violation shall be subject to only one penalty if the violation affects each member equally. A prevailing association shall not recover any costs, unless the court finds the action to be frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.

        (Added by Stats. 2012, Ch. 180, Sec. 2. Effective January 1, 2013. Operative January 1, 2014, by Sec. 3 of Ch. 180.) https://www.davis-stirling.com/HOME/Statutes/Civil-Code-4955#axzz2CR2ljirY

  3. My California Community assoc published all the executive minutes in the public website available to anybody not just members.

    They discuss personnel matters, fines, small claims litigation, and people who are critical of the assoc.

    Are they personally liable?

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