On Monday, January 11, 2010 the City Council will again take up the issue of the Rental Inspection Code litigation. All indications point to the Council going into another closed meeting for discussion, thus depriving the public their right to know the issues involved and the positions of the Council members. Closed meetings are now the norm for this Council, whether discussing dry cask storage at Prairie Island, hiring lobbyists, or implementing a rental inspection program. Remember, going into a closed meeting is a choice, it is not required.
The Open Meeting Law serves several purposes:
(1) “to prohibit actions being taken at a secret meeting where it is impossible for the interested public to become fully informed concerning [public bodies’] decisions or to detect improper influences”; (2) “to assure the public’s right to be informed”; and (3) “to afford the public an opportunity to present its views to the [public body].”
St. Cloud Newspapers, Inc. v. Dist. 742 Cmty. Schs., 332 N.W.2d 1, 4 (Minn. 1983)
There is an exception to the Open Meeting Law that allows closing a meeting to discuss strategy when there is threatened or pending litigation. However, that is not enough. It has to be shown that the need for absolute confidentiality outweighs the public’s right to know.
Judge King has issued his decision. Either party has 60 days to appeal. Nothing is pending, as the decision has issued. Litigation has already been commenced so nothing threatened. Even if there was a basis for arguing that this litigation is threatened or pending, the City still must show that the need to secretly discuss strategy outweighs the needs of the public. The City could discuss an appeal, but is that strategy at this point? The Plaintiffs are certainly aware of this option. So, just what is it that the City feels it needs to discuss in secret?
The attorney-client exception should not be used to swallow the entire debate on this critical issue. The City has spent nearly $200,000 out of its own coffers thus far in litigating this case. The public has a right to know where their elected officials stand, not just on this litigation, but on the entire issue of rental inspections, such as whether this plan will expand to force inspections of all homes in Red Wing. If you want openness and accountability in our City government, take a moment and call or email your City council member. City Council list.
Kent D. Laugen
From the League of Minnesota Cities own handbook it is stated:
|The need for absolute confidentiality should relate to litigation strategy, and will usually arise only after a substantive decision on the underlying matter has been made. This privilege may not be abused to suppress public observations of the decision-making process, and does not include situations where the council will be receiving general legal opinions and advice on the strengths and weaknesses of a proposed underlying action that may give rise to future litigation.|