The difficulty in dealing with Winona County government is determining who to go to directly for corrective action when procedure is not in accordance with the Minnesota Open Meeting Law (OML). But recently we were delighted to see that after repeated appeals to the administration, and an editorial pointing out that the county was not following OML directives, there was a positive response from the county administration.
Bodies of government are required by the OML to have available at all of their public meetings a complete copy of the agenda—and any independent documents that will be handed to the governing board for discussion—marked “Public Copy” and placed in a conspicuous spot so that members of the public may refer to it during the meeting, while the board is in discussion. The reason for this aspect of the law is to make it easier for the public to follow the board’s discussion. If the board members are referring to a document that is not available to the public, it is impossible for the public to be fully involved in the discussion. Short of grabbing a copy out of the hands of a board member, members of the public are kept in the dark.
At the last Winona County Board meeting, there was a “Public Copy” of the agenda, large as life. We commend the county for taking this action to be more open in its dealings. Thank you.
Now, not to nitpick, but there is one little (not so little, really, as it is also a requirement of the OML) thing. The “Public Copy” was not complete. There was a document, a handout, referred to at the meeting during a discussion with the representative from the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust. When the County Administrator was approached and questioned as to why there was no public copy of the document in question, he replied that he didn’t know, and opined that perhaps the insurance representative had supplied the handout and didn’t know that there had to be a public copy.
It is in fact up to the County, not guests at County Board meetings, to supply the public with all documentation in the “Public Copy” — especially when the guest in question was a representative from the company that insures the county against violations of the Open Meeting Law and Data Practices Act.