This post is for some background information on how some of the laws that protect the public’s access to government data and prohibits public officials from having private discussions were frequently violated by and under Michael Munoz. It is also important to note that because of gaps in state law, there is not agency that will go after these violations in the public interest. In Minnesota no one is charged with enforcing open meeting laws. The School Board needs to take action.
In future posts I will share a number of specific instances where Munoz broke the law and how some of the false or misleading statements hurt our kids in Rochester. The School Board should initiate an investigation on the illegal actions by Munoz and others. I remain open to any corrections the School District may offer, but to date my request for meetings with Board Members has been ignored. The attorney representing the district is simultaneously saying that the district didn’t break any laws, but board members still shouldn’t talk to me.
For now I am going to simply point to what the laws are and explain them some. It is not important for every elected official to understand all the details of these laws. It is important that there is a professional they can access with questions. In the case of the School District, Munoz did not have legal representation present and went so far as to give incorrect legal advice.
This is important because I draw a line from what happened in these illegal meetings and how our community’s kids are hurt.
There are 3 types of meetings. Those that must be closed, those that must be open, and those that MAY be closed. It really is common sense. If you live in an open democracy you should be able to see what your elected officials are doing and saying. There are a few times where they need to or should meet in private. Chapter 13D.05 makes it super easy to understand when meetings may or must be closed.
When meeting must be closed.
(a) Any portion of a meeting must be closed if expressly required by other law or if the following types of data are discussed:
(1) data that would identify alleged victims or reporters of criminal sexual conduct, domestic abuse, or maltreatment of minors or vulnerable adults;
(2) active investigative data as defined in section 13.82, subdivision 7, or internal affairs data relating to allegations of law enforcement personnel misconduct collected or created by a state agency, statewide system, or political subdivision;
(4) an individual’s medical records governed by sections 144.291 to 144.298.
(b) A public body shall close one or more meetings for preliminary consideration of allegations or charges against an individual subject to its authority. If the members conclude that discipline of any nature may be warranted as a result of those specific charges or allegations, further meetings or hearings relating to those specific charges or allegations held after that conclusion is reached must be open. A meeting must also be open at the request of the individual who is the subject of the meeting.
When a meeting must be closed is pretty much common sense and not controversial. Here are the limited cases for which a meeting MAY be closed.
(a) A public body may close a meeting to evaluate the performance of an individual who is subject to its authority. The public body shall identify the individual to be evaluated prior to closing a meeting. At its next open meeting, the public body shall summarize its conclusions regarding the evaluation. A meeting must be open at the request of the individual who is the subject of the meeting.
(b) Meetings may be closed if the closure is expressly authorized by statute or permitted by the attorney-client privilege.
(c) A public body may close a meeting:
(1) to determine the asking price for real or personal property to be sold by the government entity;
(2) to review confidential or protected nonpublic appraisal data under section 13.44, subdivision 3; and
(3) to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale of real or personal property.
Before holding a closed meeting under this paragraph, the public body must identify on the record the particular real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting. The proceedings of a meeting closed under this paragraph must be tape recorded at the expense of the public body. The recording must be preserved for eight years after the date of the meeting and made available to the public after all real or personal property discussed at the meeting has been purchased or sold or the governing body has abandoned the purchase or sale. The real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting must be specifically identified on the tape. A list of members and all other persons present at the closed meeting must be made available to the public after the closed meeting. If an action is brought claiming that public business other than discussions allowed under this paragraph was transacted at a closed meeting held under this paragraph during the time when the tape is not available to the public, section 13D.03, subdivision 3, applies.
An agreement reached that is based on an offer considered at a closed meeting is contingent on approval of the public body at an open meeting. The actual purchase or sale must be approved at an open meeting after the notice period required by statute or the governing body’s internal procedures, and the purchase price or sale price is public data.
(d) Meetings may be closed to receive security briefings and reports, to discuss issues related to security systems, to discuss emergency response procedures and to discuss security deficiencies in or recommendations regarding public services, infrastructure and facilities, if disclosure of the information discussed would pose a danger to public safety or compromise security procedures or responses. Financial issues related to security matters must be discussed and all related financial decisions must be made at an open meeting. Before closing a meeting under this paragraph, the public body, in describing the subject to be discussed, must refer to the facilities, systems, procedures, services, or infrastructures to be considered during the closed meeting. A closed meeting must be tape recorded at the expense of the governing body, and the recording must be preserved for at least four years.
Munoz closed a number of meetings using part (c) but violated this law in a number of ways. Here are some things that the law specifically prohibits.
- Holding a closed session without doing this: “Before holding a closed meeting under this paragraph, the public body must identify on the record the particular real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting.” Because this step was ignored we don’t actually know what they closed the meeting for. We do know they broke this law.
- Discussion beyond these 3 topics: “to determine the asking price for real or personal property to be sold by the government entity; to review confidential or protected nonpublic appraisal data under section 13.44, subdivision 3; and to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale of real or personal property.” Based on the audio recordings we know a number of topics were discussed. That said the meetings did not contain discussion on appraisals, there was no nonpublic appraisal data, and there was no discussion of offers or counter offers. All of the discussion beyond these 3 topics was illegal.
The first item has “kinda” been acknowledged by the district. No formal acknowledgement of the illegal activity, no apology, and no disciplinary action have been taken to date. Because many of these illegal activities have taken place where the public can not see them, we will not know how many times these laws have been broke without an independent investigation.
I will leave it there for now, but there were also cases on withholding information from the media when the School District was legally required to provide it and illegal electronic meetings.
We deserve an independent investigation.