Thursday, July 31, 2014

Research Q of the Week: Open Meeting Law and Job Applicants (7/31)

Question: Can a city council close a meeting to consider allegations against a job applicant?

Answer: The short answer is no.

One of the seven exceptions to the Open Meeting Law requires a city council to close a meeting for “preliminary consideration of allegations or charges against an individual subject to its authority.” City councils have typically used this exception to close meetings to discuss allegations against city employees—not fun.

But recently, a city council closed two meetings under this exception to discuss allegations against a job applicant.

The city council made a job offer to an applicant for the position of police chief that was conditional on the applicant passing several examinations. The city council later learned about some allegations against the applicant and closed two meetings to discuss them.

Here’s how that played out

 The local newspaper challenged the city council’s decision to close the meetings and requested an advisory opinion from the Department of Administration’s Information Policy Analysis Division (IPAD).

IPAD advised that the city council had violated the Open Meeting Law by closing the meetings. IPAD concluded that a “public body’s ability to impose discipline and an individual’s obligation to submit to the authority of the body are what makes an individual subject to that authority.”

IPAD determined that the job applicant was not subject to the city council’s authority because the city council had no authority to discipline him or to direct his actions in any way.

Written by Susan Naughton, research attorney with the League of Minnesota Cities. Contact: snaughto@lmc.org or (651) 281-1232.

This blog post conveys general information. It’s not legal advice. Please check with your city attorney before acting on this information.

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