‘Open Meeting Law’, thy name is ‘Secrecy’

Minnesota’s open meeting laws have always shielded the state’s and cities’ public officials from the sunshine and a long meeting in Cloquet last night is but the latest example of the most misnamed law in Minnesota.

In theory, Cloquet Police Chief Steve Stracek must have done something wrong or he’d probably still have a job. What did he do? Nobody will ever know because state law shields the City Council from revealing the rift between the police chief and his officers.

The police union had brought a complaint against Stracek, the Duluth News Tribune says. He’s been suspended since March.

The city’s police union held a no-confidence vote against him as “last resort to express concern over the chief’s lack of leadership, lack of communication, lack of support for officers, and poor policy decisions.”

But nobody ever gave specifics.

The City Council met behind closed doors until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Under the state’s open meeting laws the “final disposition of any disciplinary action together with the specific reasons for the action and data documenting the basis of the action, excluding data that would identify confidential sources who are employees of the public body” would be made public.

A preliminary hearing on discipline of an employee must be held in secret, according to the law. But if it’s found that discipline is warranted, further hearings must be held in the open and people would have an idea what’s going on.

But further discipline wasn’t “warranted” in this case. Instead, the City Council exonerated Stracek of the charges against him. And then he immediately retired.

They cut a deal with the chief in which he’d take his retirement and go and nothing about what took seven hours to discuss would ever be made public. It’s tidy. It’s legal. No discipline, no information need be released about why the city was pushing its police chief out the door.

“I just think it was a good outcome for all involved,” Councilor Adam Bailey, who read the agreement aloud in open session, told the News Tribune.

Except for the people of a city who want to know what’s going with its police department and government.

“Nobody wishes this on anybody. It’s time for us to move forward as a department, a community and a council. Let the healing begin, and hopefully everyone can pull in the same direction,” a union official said.

The healing will now begin in Cloquet, even though only a few people know what the city is supposedly healing from.

Archive: School board takes step to shield itself from public spotlight (NewsCut)