After so many years of handling questions about the Sunshine Law, it's a rare, sunny day in April when a question comes in that presents something new to think about. Well, it's not sunny here today as the Royals open their season, fortunately in Minneapolis, but an interesting new question did present itself that caused me to ponder the issue!
A county and a city and working together to reach an agreement over the hiring of a dispatcher to serve both of them. And the public bodies of each entity are meeting in a closed meeting to discuss that issue. Is it a violation of the law?
Are they meeting in a closed meeting for purposes of negotiating a contract, I questioned? Each public body could conceivably hold a closed meeting for each side to determine its position in regard to the negotiations with each other. That would be fine, I thought.
Or, were they meeting in one giant closed meeting to select the proper person for this position? While I dislike a public body bringing in large numbers of non-members into a closed meeting, I realize that a court has held that this is permissible and so if the city wanted to discuss a candidate for hiring and chose to bring members of the county's public body into its meeting, then I'd have to admit that this was a proper closed meeting under the law.
Well, turns out neither is a proper scenario under the set of facts the caller had. Instead, the county and city officials were holding a single closed meeting together to talk about the perimeters of the position they were creating. And if that's what is happening, then clearly there's a violation of the law going on. A city cannot hold a discussion about creating a job, where the members are talking only about the tasks to be done by the person they hire and the qualifications they will be seeking in a candidate. If it's illegal for one public body to hold that discussion in private, then there's nothing in the law that allows the rules to change just because two public bodies are discussing it jointly. We are not talking about specifications for competitive bids here. Clearly this is an illegal meeting.
Sometimes I hesitate to state that the parties are breaking the law because I worry about whether I'm getting all the facts. But if these facts are as presented, then this one is an easy call. On MLB opening day in many cities across the country, these elected officials are OUT!