Court says council members should lose jobs for violating open meetings law three times
MINNESOTA — Three strikes and you’re out.
That’s what the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in late June when it decided that members of the Hibbing City Council should lose their jobs because of three violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law.
The court said the mayor and two City Council representatives talked about public business at closed door meetings in violation of the law. The open meeting law requires the removal of public officials who engage in three or more unexcused violations.
“Each, without excuse, engaged in at least three separate, intentional, and unrelated violations of the Open Meeting Law,” the court said.
The council closed five meetings between January and April 1991 for the purpose of discussing labor negotiations concerning city employees. The trial court found the council discussed other issues such as privatizing the waste treatment plant and restructuring the public utilities commission.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower court to work out details including the date when the officials need to vacate their offices.
Mayor James Collins, and council members Steve Saban and Ray Sogard were fined $100 for each intentional violation, were ordered to pay attorneys fees, and are expected to forfeit their jobs on Aug. 1.
Council member Frank Modich, a newly elected official who was unfamiliar with the law, did not forfeit his job despite three violations. The court ruled that elected officials must be given a reasonable period to learn their duties before they can be removed for failing to perform them.
(Claude v. Collins; Media Counsel: Roger Aronson, Minneapolis)