Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
As of Aug. 1, 2008, an addition made to Minnesota's Open Meeting Law requires electronic recordings of closed meetings. There's an exception under attorney-client privilege, but in other instances the recordings must be kept for three years after the original meeting date. A journalism professor at
St. Cloud State University and private lawyer, Michael Vadnie says the changes were made by individuals who believe in a "transparent government." As for the importance of open meeting laws, Vadnie says the public can hold the government accountable and understand how their tax dollars are spent. "The public should care because it allows them to look beyond what government bodies choose to be public," Vadnie says. Any government organization
conducting public business is required to follow the law. This would include, but is not limited to, a city council, school board, or chamber of commerce. If a person believes that the law has not been followed, Vadnie says the first thing to do is to request an opinion letter from the state's Attorney General. The case is then reviewed and an opinion letter will state whether the Attorney General's office believes that the open meeting law was followed. The case could then be pursued through civil court.
Looking at the bigger picture though, Vadnie says, "We're all in this together. We all have the same interests for an efficient, orderly way of running the government. There shouldn't be good guys or bad guys." The general idea of the open meeting law is that it requires a government organization to discuss and decide public matters openly, unless an exception to close the meeting is met. Examples of allowable closures include personnel evaluations, security briefings, or topics that fall under attorney-client privilege. Before a meeting is closed it must be explained to those present on what
grounds the meeting is being closed to the public, and what the subject of the meeting is. According to FirstAmendment Center.org, open meetings are not a First Amendment right, so the idea wasn't practiced until the mid-'70s. The Web site states that so-called "sunshine laws" are adopted in some form by federal and state governments. Sunshine laws are those that allow us to access public data and attend open meetings. The site refers to Woodrow Wilson's idea that, "light is the only thing that can sweeten our political atmosphere and open to view the innermost chambers of government." There is no minimum requirement to the law so it varies state-to-state, the Web site added.
For more detailed information on Minnesota's Open Meeting Law statute visit www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/pubs/.