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Open Meeting Law covers more than the meeting

By Staff | May 19, 2008

Probably most people have an idea of what the Minnesota Open Meeting Law is all about.

It means that meetings of governmental bodies (school boards, city councils, county commissions, etc.) are to be open to the public. The voting public has a right to know what their elected officials are doing.

But it covers a lot more than that. For instance, it states that committees of these governmental bodies are covered by the same law. It states that the public needs to be informed of when these meetings take place. It states that any documents that are viewed by the governmental body must also be available to the public.

The law also covers when, and how, a meeting can be closed. There are very few reasons to close a meeting, because the spirit of the law is that almost everything our elected officials do should be done in the open, where we can see it.

The law also states that before a meeting is closed, the board or commission must state why it is being closed. They must state the law that allows them to close it.

Then in many cases they must keep a recording of the closed meeting, and at the next open meeting they must report what they did at the closed meeting, including any findings that they made. Any actual votes or decisions can’t be made at the closed meeting, but must be made at an open meeting so that the public sees why that decision was made.

We feel that the Winnebago City Council fell short of this spirit of the law by not giving a full report of their closed session dealing with the city administrator. A more detailed description of that session was called for.

The reason the press keeps a wary eye on the government is because the public needs to know what their elected officials are doing.

Closed meetings can become a slippery slope for governments and should only be done in the proper manner, and only when necessary and allowed by the Open Meeting Law.