Editorial: More attention to meeting laws needed

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 13, 2003

The state’s open meeting law is designed so citizens can keep close watch on what’s happening in their government. Whenever members of an elected board or council gather and discuss public matters, the public should be notified of the meeting and a record should be kept to prove what transpired. And the public should have the full opportunity to observe their elected representatives in action.

That’s why a couple of questionable incidents in the last few weeks are getting attention. Members of the Freeborn County board have been criticized for letting one member participate in a board meeting by telephone, and for meeting with the Lake Chapeau Habitat Committee to discuss the issues surrounding a dam that has caused controversy on the lake.

County Attorney Craig Nelson has consulted with the state and concluded that the county should reaffirm all the decisions made at the last board meeting, during which Commissioner Dave Mullenbach participated by telephone. While not an incredibly serious violation, the telephone participation may violate the letter of the law. People are supposed to be able to see their representatives participating.

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The habitat committee meeting is another matter. Four commissioners &045; all except Dan Belshan &045; met with the committee. Each was invited individually, and there was probably not any deceitful intent by the commissioners. They responded to a request for their presence. But they should have realized that a quorum of commissioners meeting with a group to discuss public policy was at best a stretch of the law, and quite likely a violation.

The commissioners involved would be wise to take more care in the future to avoid the occurence or appearance of violations to the state’s open meeting law. The regulations are the means by which government is held accountable, and they are crucial for an effective democracy.

Tribune editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s management and editorial staff.