Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is the University of Minnesota

Skirting the Open Meeting Law, Again?

(Part II.)

[For Part I., please see my earlier post (link)].

May 5, 2010

Professor Marti Hope Gonzales
Faculty Consultative Committee

Dear Professor Gonzales:

This is a formal response to your email reply to my earlier letter on the question of whether the Minnesota Open Meeting Law is applicable to meetings of the Faculty Consultative Committee.

Let us look at the three reasons you gave for conducting closed meetings:

1. The Open Meeting Law (Chapter 13D of the Minnesota Statutes) does not apply to advisory committees.

It is true that the scope of paragraph (b) of Minn. Stat. 13D.01 subd. 1 is limited to meetings of the governing body of a public body. However, paragraph (c) requires that meetings of ANY COMMITTEE of a public body must be open to the public. Unlike paragraph (b), paragraph (c) does NOT limit its scope to a "governing" committee.

2. The bylaws of the University Senate authorize closed meetings of committees of the Senate.

In the Star Tribune case the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the argument of the Regents that the Open Meeting Law does not apply to the University. Neither the Regents nor the University Senate can override the statute. So the only closed meetings that may lawfully be held are those that are authorized by the statute. None of the topics discussed at the April 15 meeting of the FCC is of a nature that may be discussed in secret.

3. It is necessary to hold closed meetings in order to have an effective and candid exchange of information between the administration and the FCC.

So the administration will sometimes provide accurate and truthful information only in closed meetings? What kind of administration is that? What of the duty of the FCC "to report on matters that should be brought to the attention of the University at large?" See Article II, section 5, part I of the Senate bylaws. The FCC is supposed to be the representative of the faculty--not a co-conspirator with the administration in conducting the business of the University in secret!

In the Star Tribune case the Minnesota Supreme Court rejected this rationale for evading the Open Meeting Law:

"The purpose of [the state constitutional provision] empowering the Regents with the management of the University was to put academic and university management issues in the hands of the Regents. The Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law do not tread on those types of issues. These statutes address broader concerns of the relationship and information-flow between public institutions and the people whom they serve.

"The Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law are intended to promote the general welfare by making government information accessible to the people. Both statutes are applicable not just to the University, but to all state agencies, as well as local government entities."

Star Tribune Co. v. University of Minnesota Board of Regents, 683 N.W.2d
at 284-285, 286 (Minn. 2004)

The requests made in my April 30, 2010 communication stand:

This is a formal request that the FCC justify any closing of meetings in the future by citing the relevant portion of the open meeting law used to justify such behavior. It is particularly disturbing that the President chose to participate in such a closed meeting, given the legal problems of the University with the open meeting law and the last presidential search. If detailed minutes or recordings from the last meeting are available, this is a formal request, under the open meeting law, that they be provided. This request also applies to detailed minutes or recordings of the FCC meeting with the administration prior to the Faculty Senate meeting on March 25.”

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.


William B. Gleason
University of Minnesota Faculty Member

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