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We feel Winnebago meeting closure was improper

By Staff | Jan 14, 2008

We feel that the Winnebago City Council acted improperly and should not have closed their meeting to the public which they did last week.

There are only a handful of reasons to close a public meeting in Minnesota and they are clearly stated in what is known as the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. That law also states that a public body needs to declare why the meeting was closed, and then report what actions were taken at the closed session.

The Winnebago City Council had a stated reason, which was to do an evaluation of an employee. However, it is our understanding that an employee review was not done during the closed session, and instead, a discussion was held about whether to do an evaluation. That discussion should have occurred at the open part of the meeting.

An attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, Mark Anfinson, agrees. In fact, he called the closure of the meeting not only improper, but illegal, as it was a violation of the state open meeting law in his opinion.

The public has a right to know what its elected officials are doing, and why. Discussions of the nature of what we think went on at the Winnebago closed meeting (but we don't know for sure what was discussed, because we were unable to hear it) should be done in the open.

We agree that some things need to be handled in private. But those only include items like discussions with an attorney about pending litigation, labor negotiations or data privacy material.

A discussion about whether to have a closed meeting or not, should always be done in the open. We would hope that any governmental body would have that discussion openly, and then close their meeting only if absolutely necessary, and not because it is simply on the agenda.