Denied: data request for audio of closed council meetings on the liquor store relocation

IMG_4825I filed this Data Request Form on Monday, asking for the audio and/or transcripts of the closed Council meetings (May 7 and June 26) about the liquor store relocation that are part of Mayor Lee Lansing’s lawsuit.

I got the following prompt reply from Deb Little, city clerk.

The 600 Division and the Econofoods sites have not been abandoned by the council and therefore the tapes of the closed meetings are not yet available to the public.  The council has not abandoned the two sites but rather re-opened the search for a site, and the new search may or may not include those two sites.  If it becomes clear that the new search will not include those sites, or if the council were to decide not to proceed with relocation of the liquor store at all, the tapes will be released.

A motion was passed by the City Council on July 16, 2007, directing staff to bring Frauenshuh in for discussion on the scope of the liquor store project. That motion does not preclude the Econofoods or the 600 Division Street sites from being considered as part of the re-opened site selection process.

Minnesota Statutes Sec. 13D.05, Subd. 3 (c), allows the City Council to hold closed sessions “to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale of real or personal property.” Closed sessions must be tape recorded. The recordings must be made available to the public “after all real or personal property discussed at the meeting has been purchased or sold or the governing body has abandoned the purchase or sale.”  The purpose of the statute is to protect the bargaining position of the city as long as a purchase or sale has not been consummated but remains a possibility.  It is the opinion of the City Attorney and staff that the Northfield Council has not abandoned the purchase of the Econofoods or the 600 Division Street site, based on the Council’s actions to date.

The pertinent part of the statute mentioned above reads as follows:

13D.05 Meetings having data classified as not public.

Subd. 3. What meetings may be closed.

(c) A public body may close a meeting:

(1) to determine the asking price for real or personal property to be sold by the government entity;

(2) to review confidential or nonpublic appraisal data under section 13.44, subdivision 3; and

(3) to develop or consider offers or counteroffers for the purchase or sale of real or personal property.

Before holding a closed meeting under this paragraph, the public body must identify on the record the particular real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting. The proceedings of a meeting closed under this paragraph must be tape recorded at the expense of the public body. The recording must be preserved for eight years after the date of the meeting and made available to the public after all real or personal property discussed at the meeting has been purchased or sold or the governing body has abandoned the purchase or sale. The real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting must be specifically identified on the tape. A list of members and all other persons present at the closed meeting must be made available to the public after the closed meeting. If an action is brought claiming that public business other than discussions allowed under this paragraph was transacted at a closed meeting held under this paragraph during the time when the tape is not available to the public, section 13D.03, subdivision 3, applies.

An agreement reached that is based on  an offer considered at a closed meeting is contingent on approval of the public body at an open meeting. The actual purchase or sale must be approved at an open meeting after the notice period required by statute or the governing body’s internal procedures, and the purchase price or sale price is public data.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

Deb Little City Clerk

11 thoughts on “Denied: data request for audio of closed council meetings on the liquor store relocation”

  1. Econofoods/Nasch Finch has said they’re not interested in having the liquor store on their property. And it’s pretty obvious that the Council is not going to locate the store on the Lansing block. So it’s over. Done. Kaput.

    So how does one go about challenging this, short of hiring a you-know-who to file a you-know-what?

  2. Griff,
    they’ve got you on a technicality. Yes, the two sites are off the table. One could argue the table no longer has legs.

    Are any of the councillors, mayor, or city staff clients of yours? If they are, you could get that person to sue you and have the city cover your legal expenses as you would be a city employee sort of. Then have your you-know-who file a you-know-what.

    Or get one of the lawyers posting comments on here do it pro bono for the public good, or at least the public curiosity.

  3. This reply from the city is the most specious thing I’ve ever heard. I was at the meeting when the decision of Nash Finch declining any interest was announced; I was at the previous meeting when the city administrator announced to the council that 618 Division could NOT be considered and at that last mentioned meeting the council still declared 600 Division , along with the Nash Finch site to be the two they would investigate; If 618 Division cannot be considered, then neither could 600 Division, because of the provisions in the admin. section of the city code. That section of the city code precludes financial transactions between city and “blood relatives” of elected officials, so the fact that Mr. Roder was saying they could not consider 618, but could identify 600 as a preferred site makes absolutely no sense.
    There is absolutely zero clarity here, and no clear information from anyone.
    If the Division St. sites (or one of them) are still under active consideration, then why did city hire a real estate consultant/ negotiator, mr Joe Donnelley, to come up with additional possible sites, and also go through the big phony exercise of asking everyone from here to the planet Mars to identify what/where the Downtown IS?
    This is precisely the kind of pitiful, unnecessary, wasteful, frustrating BS that is going on because of power struggles, turf wars, lawsuits … and the inability of the city council to discuss their internal problems.
    It’s inexcusable.

  4. I’ve heard a rumor from a very reliable source that there’s a decent chance that the 600 block properties may come under new ownership in the foreseeable future.

    If that’s true, possibly the new prospective owner has had discussions with someone at City Hall……Which doesn’t exactly explain the response to Griff’s request, but I bring it up because there may be more pertinent information that we (the public) just can’t know– yet.

  5. The city response to griff’s request would have no relevancy to a future new owner, since those properties are privately owned now. The city is responding only to the council’s discussion of those properties.

  6. Lansing’s attorney has tried to get the tapes, too. In today’s Nfld News: Ruling could affect Lansings’ lawsuit: Attorneys discuss their case in light of the mayor’s claims

    Corwin said the Lansings’ goal isn’t to oust the councilors, but to “stop improper closed meetings.” The attorney said he tried to get tapes of the closed sessions, but has so far been rebuffed. On Aug. 30, Corwin said he met with city attorney Maren Swanson and special city attorney Cliff Greene to ask for tapes of the May 7 and June 26 closed meetings. The attorneys denied his request, he said.

    Since councilors haven’t officially abandoned either two sites being considered as home to a new liquor store – including the 600 Division property owned in part by David Lansing – the tapes can be withheld under state law. Suing, Corwin said, is the only way to get hold of the tapes. Corwin says there’s much to learn from the closed session tapes. “If we listen to the tapes, we may determine nothing improper happened or we may determine there were only one or 2 violations,” he said.

  7. Note that section 13D.05 subd. 3 essentially provides that the council may close such meetings, not that such meetings shall be closed under Minnesota law. The decision not to release the tapes is therefore a choice made by the council, not mandatory under the terms of the Open Meeting Law. The tapes are defined as “not public” data pursuant to a temporary classification that the information is nonpublic. This is an important distinction from data which is presumptively nonpublic.

    If you are interested in challenging the council’s decision not to release these tapes, I would suggest requesting an administrative opinion from the department of administration. If you get a positive administrative opinion, you’ll have a better shot at forcing the release of the tapes.

    A good website with info for requesting an administrative opinion and filing a good data practices request is:

    However, since the mayor’s attorney appears to want the tapes, I’m of the mind that he will eventually obtain them. He’ll bring a motion for discovery, and the judge will likely review the tapes in camera prior to deciding whether or not to issue an order compelling the city to release them. (See M.S 13.03 subd. 6)

  8. I’m trying to make sense of something…perhaps someone can help.
    So the mayor wants the tapes of the closed meetings, and sues, in part, to get them. The council votes 6-0 Monday night to release the tapes and the mayor doesn’t object. Instead of thanking the council and allowing his family to drop the suit, however, the mayor maneuvers in secret to nullify a legal public vote of the council and block the release of the tapes. But the newspaper argues that the city attorney can’t ignore a council mandate. So the mayor now may need to go to court to seek an injunction to block the release of the tapes he sued to have released.
    I don’t get it.

    So, Griff, are you going to try and pick up the tapes?

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