St. Anthony council planning retreat found to be in violation of open meeting laws

The Minnesota Department of Administration found St. Anthony City Council meetings held outside of the city in January did not comply with open meeting laws. 

Commissioner Matt Massman, in an April 5 advisory opinion, said the council undermined the public policy intent of Minnesota open meeting laws by holding meetings “outside the Council’s jurisdiction.”

The opinion was requested by St. Anthony citizen Nancy Robinett, who told state officials the city council held goal-setting sessions at a Marriott Northwest hotel in Brooklyn Park Jan. 11 and 12. Robinett said she attended the meetings but was not given a copy of council member documents. 

Massman also found the St. Anthony council did not comply with state statutes when they did not make at least one copy of member materials. 

However, Massman said the St. Anthony council members were in compliance with open meeting laws when they attended a dinner in the hotel dining room the evening of Jan. 11, where they did not sit together or “discuss, decide, or receive information related to official business as a group.”

As an advisory opinion, the decision to take any further legal steps is up to the requester of the opinion, Robinett. Because she believes the council will “abide by the advisory opinion,” she said in an email she has “no interest” in further legal action. 

“I have only wanted our elected officials to understand and follow the open meeting law,” she said. Robinett ran for the St. Anthony council last year, losing by fewer than 20 votes.

At the end of its Jan. 23 city council meeting, two weeks after the goal-setting sessions, St. Anthony councilmembers spoke in defense of the retreat. 

Council member Hal Gray said the last session was his 14th but the first time residents were there, which he said is fine. “Anybody is welcome to come and listen.”

Council member Jan Jenson said the sessions foster “constructive dialogue.” Newcomer council member Thomas Randle said the retreat gave him an inside look into how the city makes plans. 

“It’s still a good process,” said Mayor Jerry Faust.

The mayor and council held steadfast to this defense after the advisory opinion. Faust, at the April 10 meeting, said the council disagrees with the conclusion and thinks it interprets the facts and law incorrectly. He said the council, at the moment, have not discussed taking legal action, but will take the opinion into consideration when scheduling future planning sessions. “We’ll live under that ruling,” Faust said. 

He added state open meeting laws are “about a half a century old,” and that the council does not intentionally break the law. 

Asked for further comment after the April 10 meeting, Faust said via email, “I made my comments at last evening’s council meeting.”


 

— Solomon Gustavo

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