School Board accused of breaking Open Meeting Law

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Photo by Drew Jurek
School Board members discuss issues during a meeting on nov. 14. Unlike committees wherein members of the school board only include a minority of directors, a committee should be made up of the whole school board so that action can be taken on major issues.

The School Board has received a letter from the Minnesota Department of Administration declaring the school board had defied the state’s Open Meeting Law during a meeting of the Finance and Operation Working Group on Aug. 29. The incident in question involved a member of the School Board who attended a meeting as a member of the audience and entered into the conversation of the three person panel. The Department of Administration stated that the School Board had not given prior notice that the meeting would be attended by four members.

Minnesota Open Meeting Law declares that governing bodies within the state of Minnesota must give prior notice to official meetings of said body and specify when a “Quorum” would be present. Quorum means that while not all members of the governing body would be present, a majority of the body would be present and could pass potential motions.

Alice Davis-Roberts, Commissioner of the Department of Administration explained in the letter that “Once the fourth School Board member was present to discuss, decide, or receive information as a group relating to the official business of the School Board, the committee meeting also became a meeting of the School Board.”

The letter is a result of a complaint filed by Carl Blondin, a local attorney. Blondin said that he filed the complaint due to concern with the School Boards’ “slipshod” practices and expressed concern over what he felt were multiple actions of questionable legality. Blondin has been involved in activism in regards to the School Board for many years and has often raised concerns over the sway special interest groups have over the School Board’s decisions.

The posting of the open meeting was missing a small piece of information regarding whether it might be possible that other board members who are not on the working group might be present.”

— Sarah Stivland

Members of the School Board have expressed different viewpoints on the matter, although all agree that the ruling was fair and that decisive action must be taken.

Director Sarah Stivland explained, “The posting of the open meeting was missing a small piece of information regarding whether it might be possible that other board members who are not on the working group might be present. That change has been made. Going forward, this information will be included in working group official postings.”

Director Shelley Pearson agreed with Stivland, saying that she felt that the department’s ruling was probably fair, although she wishes that the letter conflicted less with itself. This is an opinion that many other School Board members reiterated when asked.

Meanwhile, Director Jen Pelletier believes that this is a serious issue that demands immediate action. She explained that it was her opinion that if the board committees could not properly organize themselves correctly, they should be completely disbanded and replaced with full board meetings.

The School Board has begun a new policy of adding a disclaimer to all notifications of a meeting that states that a quorum might be present. This policy may still not be enough to comply with the demands of the letter from the Minnesota Department of Administration.

“I don’t believe that we’ve tackled this situation with enough strength,” Pelletier said. “You deserve to be able to trust that your School Board is doing the right thing with integrity and honesty. I don’t think our policy is there yet.”

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