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County commissioners lose jobs for breaching open meeting law

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    NMU         MINNESOTA         Freedom of Information         Oct 5, 2000    

County commissioners lose jobs for breaching open meeting law

  • Court upholds ouster of four members, noting that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

City and county commissioners in Minnesota should become very familiar with the Minnesota open meetings laws after a state court of appeals ruling in early September. According to the Court of Appeals of Minnesota, violating the open meetings laws can result in the loss of their political office, even if the violation was unintentional or the result of misunderstanding the law.

The court upheld a Cook County Board of Commissioners determination to remove four commissioners who violated open meetings laws. The board asked the commissioners to resign, and when only two complied it removed the remaining two via a letter. A Minnesota statute permits the removal of commissioners if, after a hearing, the board determines the commissioners neglected their duty while in office.

In this case, the board determined the four members neglected their duties when they asked a subcommittee director to leave a meeting while the commissioners discussed his salary and responsibilities. Furthermore, the four commissioners violated the open meeting statute by failing to record the closed meeting.

The court of appeals upheld the findings of the full board because there was evidence of notes taken at the closed meeting. In rejecting the ousted commissioners’ plea of ignorance of the law, the court noted the unlikelihood that three-year and 15-year veterans of a board would not be aware of the requirements. However, the court said the statute that allows the board to terminate commissioners’ tenure only requires the board to find the commissioners neglected their duty, without any mention of intent.

(Headstrom v. Cook County) CC

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