Tuesday, February 17, 2009

County Attorney Cautions Board About "Banning" Recording Devices at Public Meetings

County Attorney Melanie Ford responded to Commissioner Keith Nelson’s request that she research whether the Board could ban electronic recording devices at their board workshops.. She indicated that the law is not “settled” on this issue in the State of Minnesota, although has been addressed on the Federal level. The Board may enact policies banning recording devices but should be very careful to not violate the American with Disabilities Act. Additionally, she indicated that it is very likely that a lawsuit would be filed if a policy banning recording were to be enacted. The Board would need to have a “compelling reason” to pursue such a policy and at the present time Attorney Ford does not see any such reason.

Attorney Ford has received a Data Practices Act request from the Duluth News Tribune for her written opinion. Commissioner Fink asked that she not provide this until the Commissioners have had an opportunity to read her opinion.

Commissioner Nelson then stated that it does not matter if the paper gets it now, seeing as that is the way the county attorney has “always done business”, via the press. The meeting was quickly adjourned before more discussion could occur in that vein.

County Board Meeting Feb 17, 2009

At the county board meeting held on February 17, 2009 in Duluth a number of people spoke to the Board regarding the tribal lands issue, the Board’s comments regarding American Indian people and the concern that institutional racism has reared it’s ugly head and is alive and well in 2009. In response to these comments, Commissioner Rauker indicated that this is more “perception” than reality and that the news media has engaged in “false reporting” which has now led to an “overreaction”.

Commissioner Nelson apologized for “misinformation” that he claimed had be “disseminated” to the American Indian community.

It is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising, that this is the initial response of these commissioners. If they would take the time to listen to the audio recording of their January 20th county board workshop, really listen to their own words, they may come to a better understanding of why it is that the American Indian community and others are upset. In this case, “perception” is the reality, at least the reality of those not on the St Louis County Board.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nelson Should Be Concerned About Content of Meetings, not the fact they are recorded-DNT Article

Published February 08 2009 By: John Myers , Duluth News Tribune
St. Louis County commissioner annoyed by cameras at meetings
Keith Nelson is seeking a legal opinion on whether private citizens can record County Board meetings. Nelson says the recording devices are an annoyance and the material can be edited by anyone and taken out of context.

A St. Louis County commissioner has asked for a legal opinion on whether the board can ban citizens from recording some County Board meetings.
Keith Nelson of Eveleth raised the issue Tuesday at the boardʼs meeting in Duluth, saying he was concerned that he and other commissioners had been
recorded at their Jan. 20 board workshop in Pike Lake.
The group We Are Watching records many County Board meetings, including the workshops, and often posts that audio and sometimes video on the groupʼs Web site, www.northernmnnews.com.
Nelson claims that excerpts of the boardʼs discussion of the issue of tribal lands being removed from property tax rolls were forwarded to tribal officials.
The discussion included Nelson and other commissionersʼ views strongly opposing increased tribal trust land.
He also said the recorder was beeping and bothering him.
“Iʼve raised this question because of the disruption that these devices have made … and because these recording snips are being taken out of context
and used to make people look bad,ʼʼ Nelson told the News Tribune.
“Iʼm not talking about restricting the media … and the public still can get a copy of the [audio] tapes we make. So we wouldnʼt be limiting access.ʼʼ
But Kevin Skwira-Brown, a spokesman for We Are Watching, said Nelsonʼs request is aimed at stifling public access to workshops that are not shown on
public access television.
“Itʼs absolutely outrageous that county government would try to restrict citizen access to a county meeting,ʼʼ Skwira-Brown said. “Theyʼre saying if you
canʼt attend their entire six-hour meeting during a work day, then you canʼt have access to what they do. Thatʼs ridiculous.ʼʼ
Skwira-Brown said the entire discussion of the tribal lands issue has been posted on the groupʼs Web site and that no member of the group edited the
audio or sent it to tribal officials.
“We did not edit that recording. The entire,
45-minute conversation (on tribal lands) is on our Web site,ʼʼ he said, adding anyone could have obtained the recording from the county or the Internet
and edited it.
Based on Nelsonʼs complaint, County Board Chairman Dennis Fink requested County Attorney Melanie Ford to investigate whether the board could ban
private citizens from recording meetings.
Ford said Thursday she had not yet rendered an opinion.
While board workshops are informal discussions, they are clearly open meetings because there is a quorum of the board present, according to
Minnesotaʼs Open Meeting Law.
We Are Watching members say they record meetings so county residents can hear and see what their commissioners do and say.
“They [the County Board] have the ability to stream all of their meetings live onto the Web, they just arenʼt doing it,ʼʼ Skwira-Brown said.
Commissioner Steve OʼNeil expressed concern that the board might try to exclude any public scrutiny.
“We should make our meetings as open and transparent as possible,ʼʼ he said. “No one should intentionally portray what we do out of context, and I donʼt
know if thatʼs what happened or not… But it doesnʼt matter. We shouldnʼt try to stop anyone from recording our meetings.ʼʼ

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

County Board Considers Hiring New Administrator

At their Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb 3, 2009 the County Board discussed candidates to replace current Interim Administrator Al Mitchell. Candidate Kevin Gray received four votes as the number #1 candidate, thus appearing to be the top choice of the majority of the commissioners. Commissioner Forsman indicated that the voting on this matter was clearly a "North/South issue" with the "southern" commissioners not supporting candidate Dicklich as their second choice.

After further voting, Ron Dicklich was the Board's 2nd choice.

We Are...Being Watched? Citizen watchdogs are asked to release their membership information to the County Board

The Zenith City Weekly covers the recent request by some Bord members to provide a "membership list" of the WAW group. Read about it in their on-line edition from January 20, 2009

Nelson Suggests That No "Recording Devices" Be Allowed in Board Workshops

At their county Board meeting on Feb 3rd Commissioner Keith Nelson indicated that he was disturbed that the WAW group had video-taped a recent County Board Workshop. He asked that the Board consider banning all "electronic recording devices" from Board Workshops. Other commissioners indicated concern that this would prohibit the press from recording meetings as well. Some commissioners then indicated that it would be OK for the press but not for a "private party" to record Board Workshops. They directed the county attorney to research this issue and they will consider making a policy later.