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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


I do not think it means what you think it means

At our last Council Manager Workshop, we were discussing the application of the Open Meeting Law to the citizen panels that are helping screen finalists for the position of city manager. At the meeting, Mayor Longrie cited a 2004 court case, Star Tribune et al. v. University of Minnesota Board of Regents, et al., to support her contention that all of the panels' deliberations -- specifically, their development of questions that they would ask the candidates in the interviews – needed to be public.

After Monday's workshop, I thought I should look up the Minnesota Supreme Court's decision and read it for myself. The mayor read aloud some sections that would seem to support her position. However, what the court was interpreting in that case was whether or not the Board of Regents itself (the university's equivalent to the city council) – not their advisory search panel – was subject to the Open Meeting Law.

In discussing the case, the court mentions a Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC), which was created by the Regents to "recruit, screen and recommend candidates." And, "From those candidates recommended by the PSAC, the Regents would select finalists who would be publicly interviewed and considered by the Regents, as required by the Open Meeting Law and the Board of Regents Bylaws." In other words, the PSAC is similar to the advisory panels the Maplewood City Council has set up to help evaluate our city manager candidates.

No one questioned that the work of the PSAC was not done in public. On the contrary, the plaintiffs only raised their objections about the actions of the Board -- after the PSAC's work was done.

The mayor drew a false analogy, comparing the University of Minnesota Board of Regents with our advisory search panels. The true analogy would be between our panels and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee. And it seems clear from the court's opinion that no one even questioned the fact the advisory committee was not subject to the Open Meeting Law.

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It is heartening to know there is a council member who will go the extra mile to verify assertions made by Mayor Longrie rather than allow her to "cherry pick" information from whatever source to support her aims. My compliments and keep up the good work. - Gary

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