When city council, county commission, the board of education or any other government agency has a closed door meeting, the person who presides over that meeting must sign a notarized affidavit attesting the meeting was conducted legally. 

The notary must verify the signature in person at the time of the signing. 

The notarized statement is considered an oath that the meeting was closed for a legally allowed exception to the Georgia Open Meetings Act. 

It is also an oath that discussions conducted as part of that executive session did not stray off topic. The presiding officer is swearing by oath that the entire meeting was devoted to matters within the exceptions provided by the law and that were identified as being the specific reason for going behind closed doors. 

There are serious ramifications for falsifying the affidavit. 

The strong public policy of the state of Georgia is that local government must be open. 

Boards of education, county commissions, city councils and other authorities, committees and commissions cannot retreat into an executive session just because a sensitive or controversial subject is being discussed. 

Officials cannot intentionally conceal the people’s business. 

Doing so is a crime. 

If a government agency goes behind closed doors to talk about a personnel issue, the people in the room must limit their discussions to the specific employee or employees with whom there is an issue. They cannot hear from witnesses or receive evidence or testimony. They can only deliberate on a matter as it relates to a specific personnel issue. They cannot discuss policy or issues that impact all employees. When the presiding member signs that affidavit, she or he is swearing the talks were isolated to the specific personnel issue. 

If a government agency goes into executive session to discuss real estate, the talks must be restricted to buying, selling or leasing a particular piece of property or building. Discussions about the proper use of a building or piece of property are not allowed in executive session. Overall policy about acquiring or disposing of property are not allowed.

The exception is allowed only to discuss the terms of a specific transaction. The affidavit is essentially the presiding officer swearing the closed meeting pertained only to buying, selling or leasing a specific piece of real estate. 

The exception for real or pending litigation is allowed for the purpose of discussing legal strategy after an elected or appointed body has either been named in a lawsuit, filed a lawsuit or received a letter of intent stating that a lawsuit will be filed. Again, the affidavit the presiding officer must sign is an oath that the discussions were confined to legal strategy for a specific lawsuit or response to a letter of intent to file a lawsuit. 

Everyone who is a chairman or who presides over an executive session should be very careful about every piece of paper they sign. 

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