Blue Earth City Administrator Kathy Bailey conducted an interesting seminar last Monday night. With the help of a Power Point slide show, she gave the City Council a lesson on how city government works, and what they need to know to be effective council members.
With four out of the seven members of the council newly-elected, it made a lot of sense. (Of course, Rick Scholtes has served on the council previously, and John Gartzke has served on a council in another state, but still, only Mayor Rob Hammond and Councilmen Glenn Gaylord and John Huisman were actually on the council before the election was held in November.)
Bailey used up all of the half hour work session time – and more – before the regular council meeting to conduct her class.
She went through how city government works, how it is funded, what rules and regulations affect a city the size of Blue Earth and an outline of the operations of the city.
She included a list of duties which are handled by the council, and which ones are handled by the administrator.
There also was an explanation of how much City Council members are paid in Blue Earth. (In case you are interested, the mayor gets $275 per month, while regular council members claim $250.)
One of Bailey’s topics, covered late in the meeting, really caught my attention. That was her discussion of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML), a favorite of mine.
The law, of course, states that all meetings of governmental bodies (such as county, city and school) are open for the public to attend. There are only a few specific reasons to close a portion of a meeting. It can’t be done just because a council member thinks the topic is ‘sensitive’ and should be handled in private.
Most people understand this law to this point. Where it becomes tricky is where it covers discussions outside a regular meeting.
If three council members, for instance, attend the same wedding, funeral or other event and start to discuss some city business, they could easily be in violation of the OML.
Even trickier is our modern means of communication. If council members communicate by email (and who doesn’t these days?) they can slide down a slippery slope in a hurry. One council member sends out his thoughts on a subject, others respond and – whammo! – they have violated the OML. They have conducted city business – and quite probably reached a decision – outside of a public meeting.
I hope the Blue Earth council was paying attention when Bailey went over this part. And, I hope all other elected officials get a similar lesson.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the Register was selected as the ‘official’ newspaper for the city of Blue Earth. Likewise, at Tuesday’s County Board meeting, we were named the county’s ‘official’ newspaper.
And, this was possible because we are a ‘legal’ newspaper. This, of course, begs the question as to what is an ‘illegal’ newspaper?
Actually, the First Amendment to the Constitution gives anyone, and everyone, the right to publish a newspaper. So, basically, there are no ‘illegal’ newspapers.
A ‘legal’ newspaper simply means a publication has met a set of criteria with the State of Minnesota which enables the paper to accept – and charge for – legal notices. Some of the criteria involves being circulated in the community it says it serves, have more than a certain number of subscribers, come out at least once a week – things like that.
Being named an ‘official’ newspaper by a governmental body simply means it is the ‘legal’ newspaper they choose to use to publish their minutes in – and other legal and public notices.
So, being a ‘legal’ and ‘official’ newspaper all has to do with public notices, and nothing else.
Some newspapers, even some in Faribault County, have chosen not to apply with the state to become a ‘legal’ newspaper. It doesn’t mean they are not a ‘regular’ newspaper, it simply means they cannot legally charge for publishing a legal notice.
Here at the Register, we take being a ‘legal’ and ‘official’ newspaper very seriously. But, even more so, we consider being ‘your’ newspaper our most important title.