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Newspaper wins open meeting ruling

Posted: Saturday, Nov 17th, 2012




BY PLAINSMAN STAFF

MITCHELL — A judge has ordered the Mitchell City Council to refrain from using attorney-client privilege as a blanket justification for closed meetings, thereby resolving a lawsuit filed three years ago by The Daily Republic.

Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering’s judgment adopted the newspaper’s interpretation of state law. The newspaper successfully claimed that the open-meetings law does not allow a public body to close a public meeting for the sole purpose of conducting a private discussion — known as an “executive session” — with an attorney.

The judgment says the Mitchell City Council may only invoke attorney-client privilege as justification for an executive session if the discussion is “strictly limited to ‘proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters.’ “

Korrie Wenzel, publisher of The Daily Republic, said he considers the judgment a victory.

“We’re happy with this decision. We felt the process, for whatever reason, was being needlessly delayed, so we are very appreciative that things finally moved forward,” Wenzel said. 

The genesis of the lawsuit was a June 2, 2008, executive session conducted by the Mitchell City Council at the request of then-city attorney Randy Stiles.

After the executive session, The Daily Republic learned from two council members that the topic of the executive session was a state law requiring a public election to remove a park designation from public property.

Council members had been considering — against the wishes of some vocal opponents — removing the park designation from undeveloped public property near Mitchell Middle School. Council members had thought they could repeal the park designation themselves, but according to what two council members told The Daily Republic, Stiles said during the executive session that a public election on the matter appeared to be necessary.

In other words, The Daily Republic contends that Stiles took council members into a closed meeting to tell them the public was owed an election on the issue, rather than relating that information during the public portion of the meeting. There had been a group of people at the public meeting expecting to discuss the issue openly.

“We always have felt that what happened that night was wrong and we vowed to fight it — not necessarily for the newspaper, but for the Mitchell residents who were wronged at that meeting,” Wenzel said.  

MITCHELL — A judge has ordered the Mitchell City Council to refrain from using attorney-client privilege as a blanket justification for closed meetings, thereby resolving a lawsuit filed three years ago by The Daily Republic.

Circuit Judge Cheryle Gering’s judgment adopted the newspaper’s interpretation of state law. The newspaper successfully claimed that the open-meetings law does not allow a public body to close a public meeting for the sole purpose of conducting a private discussion — known as an “executive session” — with an attorney.

The judgment says the Mitchell City Council may only invoke attorney-client privilege as justification for an executive session if the discussion is “strictly limited to ‘proposed or pending litigation or contractual matters.’ “

Korrie Wenzel, publisher of The Daily Republic, said he considers the judgment a victory.

“We’re happy with this decision. We felt the process, for whatever reason, was being needlessly delayed, so we are very appreciative that things finally moved forward,” Wenzel said. 

The genesis of the lawsuit was a June 2, 2008, executive session conducted by the Mitchell City Council at the request of then-city attorney Randy Stiles.

After the executive session, The Daily Republic learned from two council members that the topic of the executive session was a state law requiring a public election to remove a park designation from public property.

Council members had been considering — against the wishes of some vocal opponents — removing the park designation from undeveloped public property near Mitchell Middle School. Council members had thought they could repeal the park designation themselves, but according to what two council members told The Daily Republic, Stiles said during the executive session that a public election on the matter appeared to be necessary.

In other words, The Daily Republic contends that Stiles took council members into a closed meeting to tell them the public was owed an election on the issue, rather than relating that information during the public portion of the meeting. There had been a group of people at the public meeting expecting to discuss the issue openly.

“We always have felt that what happened that night was wrong and we vowed to fight it — not necessarily for the newspaper, but for the Mitchell residents who were wronged at that meeting,” Wenzel said.  

For the complete article see the 11-16-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 11-16-2012 paper.


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