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Open Meeting Law violation

By Staff | Oct 27, 2008

Oops! Don’t close that meeting.

Once again, a local public-elected body has violated the state’s Open Meeting Law.

This time it’s the Winnebago City Council.

At a meeting this month, councilmembers went behind closed doors to conduct a “performance evaluation” of City Administrator Jennifer Feely.

Prior to closing the meeting, Mayor Randy Nowak correctly stated the purpose for the closed-session and identified the person being evaluated and discussed.

Then, Feely threw councilmembers a curve:

She indicated the meeting could remain open to the public.

At that point councilmember Maryann McClain began to explain why employee evaluations in the past were not kept open.

“It gives us a chance to ask him or her questions on what they have accomplished,” McClain told the council.

Those attending the meeting were asked to empty the council chambers while discussions were held.

When contacted by the Register, Feely refused to comment on why she wanted the meeting open or the council’s decision to close it.

Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, says the meeting shouldn’t have been closed.

“They clearly acted contrary to what the law says. There’s no doubt. They point blank went against her (Feely’s) wishes,” says Anfinson.

The media attorney says a portion of the Open Meeting Law states, “A meeting must be open at the request of the individual who is the subject of the meeting.”

When the meeting was resumed, Nowak made a brief statement.

“The council is in agreement Jennifer has met or exceeded the expectations of the council,” says Nowak.

Feely was rated in 17 different categories that included productivity, initiative, leadership, planning and problem solving/decision-making skills.

In each of the areas, the full council had to agree on one of four ratings: E for exceeds expectations; M, meets expectations; S, sometimes meets expectations; or D, does not meet expectations.

Feely’s salary will be discussed at a special meeting Tuesday night.

Feely, who has been city administrator for one year,“exceeded expectations” in every category.

Under state law, once a closed-meeting evaluation is completed the governing body must summarize its conclusions regarding the evaluation during its next meeting.

Also according to the Open Meeting Law, elected officials must summarize each salient point of evaluations so the public comprehends the best possible sense of the public employee’s performance — good, bad or indifferent.