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OUR VIEW: Principle of matter was made with open meeting

On Wednesday, a commission of five state's attorneys denied the complaint our newspaper filed against the city of Mitchell about open meeting laws. The commission determined that an executive session that was held Sept. 21 at a Mitchell City Coun...

On Wednesday, a commission of five state’s attorneys denied the complaint our newspaper filed against the city of Mitchell about open meeting laws.

The commission determined that an executive session that was held Sept. 21 at a Mitchell City Council meeting did not violate state statute. During Wednesday’s Open Meeting Commission (OMC) teleconference, Mitchell Mayor Jerry Toomey said the executive session was held to avoid a “hostile group” of Mitchell residents.

Many of the people attended the September meeting to voice their support of Dan Sabers, who had resigned from his position as Corn Palace director. Toomey called the meeting into executive session, and six members of the City Council followed suit. Two members of the council, Dan Allen and Jeff Smith, felt that part of the meeting should be held in public setting and voted against the executive session.

On Wednesday, the OMC determined the Mitchell City Council did nothing illegal when they went into executive session. But the majority of the OMC felt the meeting should have been held in open setting for the public’s benefit.

To be clear, the OMC’s job on Wednesday was to determine if any law was broken. While they unanimously agreed that the mayor and the council did not break the law, they felt the discussion about Sabers should have been held in an open session.

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Clearly, we agree.

We don’t feel completely defeated by Wednesday’s OMC ruling. By filing the open meetings complaint against the City Council, we felt there was wrongdoing. But even though no actual law was broken, according to the OMC, we still feel we acted in the best interest of the public and hope the mayor and City Council will be more open with similar instances in the future.

The Sept. 21 executive session, we feel, was held to avoid a mob-like scene. To close the doors to the public, including the media, and let individuals speak their minds was an easy route for the mayor and council to take.

That’s why we commend Allen and Smith for their decisions that night.

We also feel the OMC took the easy route in their interpretation of the law.

To enter an executive session for a personnel matter, a government must be discussing the qualifications, competence, performance, character or fitness of any public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee. State law allows, but does not mandate, executive session ever to be held.  

Our interpretation of the law says that does not allow a government to discuss a former employee, which is what Sabers was when the executive session was held. He certainly was not a “prospective employee.” We know that.

Still, members of the OMC agreed this meeting “probably should” have been held publically. Bon Homme County State’s Attorney Lisa Rothschadl said the council “should have done it out in the public.”

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Sure, no law, according to the OMC, was actually broken.

But the principle of the matter has been proven, both by The Daily Republic and the OMC. The best setting for this discussion was in the public, not behind closed doors.

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