Council votes to release closed meeting tapes on liquor store relocation; objections emerge

At Monday’s council meeting, councilors voted 6-0 in favor of Noah Cashman’s motion to release the video tapes of this summer’s closed meetings re: the relocation of the liquor store. Mayor Lee Lansing abstained, which is puzzling to me since he asked for the release of the tapes on our podcast and in his lawsuit against the city.

tapes-data-request I hustled down to city hall yesterday morning to file another data request for the tapes, which had been denied on Oct. 23.

Last night at about 6:30 pm, Northfield News managing editor Jaci Smith blogged that the tapes might not be released. The newspaper association attorney is saying that they must be released, that the city attorney, Maren Swanson, has no legal right to withhold them.

WTF is going on?!!

33 thoughts on “Council votes to release closed meeting tapes on liquor store relocation; objections emerge”

  1. Anne Bretts commented:

    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.

    I don’t get it either, Anne.

  2. I got this email just now from Deb Little, city clerk:

    Griff,

    I am not able to release the tapes that you requested at this time. Please see the copy of the e-mail that I received from the City Attorney for an explanation. I will keep you posted as to the status.

    ===========

    Al and Deb –

    I have spoken with George Hoff and he and I agreed that the tapes of the closed meetings regarding financial proposals for relocation of the liquor store should not be released to the public until we can resolve a possible objection to their release raised by Mayor Lansing to me after the meeting last night, followed by a letter today, and subsequently, a short time ago, by Paul Norby in a telephone call to me. They have stated that the information disclosed to the council at the closed meetings may have included confidential information provided by the developers to Mr. Donnelly which should not be released to the public. Until the attorneys have had an opportunity to review this objection to release, please do not release the tapes to the public. Thank you.

  3. What’s the World Trade Federation got to do with Smallville?

    Can this help?

    1) David Lansing contends that inappropriate dialogue and information was part of the closed meetings

    2) His suit is in part based on the tapes as evidence… thus HE actually needs access to those records.

    3) David’s father, the Mayor… boxed in by circumstances and protocol and blind-sided by the addition to the Agenda of the Motion to Release said tapes… plays his role in the Monday night discussion and vote of that Motion… carefully… for fear of further reprisals.

    Arguably, it was inappropriate for the Motion to be made without previous notification of that intended action… as that maneuver precluded any planning or response for the “concerned and effected” parties dealing with it in a timely fashion… Indeed the Mayor might find it difficult to even step down to pee… and possibly call his son or Norby… and had he… would that be inappropriate for him to have done so? Would we have another derailed process, for that specious discussion and mayor badgering?

    So, he (Lee Lansing, Mayor) turned the Chair over to the Mayor Pro tem… did not participate in the discussion… abstained on the vote… and then evidently, after the meeting… presumedly now wearing a different hat, with a Hardware Hank logo (I jest but you get my point) spoke to the City Attorney about his concern that his son’s and the Son’s partner’s information MIGHT be part of the closed discussion – now to be released to he public.

    What we can assume is that in the past, over a cool drink… Lee and his son might have spoken about his son’s plight.

    Is that “Okay” with you?

    I mean, can the mayor talk with his son about the tube he’s slipping down?

    Additionally, you might enjoy these highlight topics from the discussion:

    Cashman asked Swanson (City attny) if she had reviewed Res 2007-126

    She replied that she had ( Summa: “Maybe not too thoroughly?” )

    Pokorney, asked Swanson: (paraphrased here) “Are there any confidentiality issues/agreement in play in these closed meeting record’s?

    She replied (paraphrased) she was not concerned.

    Also, FYI, from my recollection of past information, present at the Council Closed Sessions were:

    All six councilors

    Al Roder

    Maren Swanson

    The City’s hired consultant – working as go-between for the City and the Developers… hence, he may have had information available to him for the meeting… which may have been discussed, in a variety of unknown references by the meeting’s participants by any or all.

    That might have been illegal (innocently… but still illegal) and now viewed by the developers as not appropriate to be heard by the public.

    So, what Lee’s son needs to know to pursue justice, is the contents of those tapes without the public necessarily knowing… and then have his attorney determine how that verbiage can best be used in the court action.

    vs

  4. This is turning into a Catch-22 inside an enigma inside a snake eating its own tail.

    It was bizarre enough already, but now I think I just saw a yammering white rabbit run by in a quite a rush.

    He’s headed for the rabbit hole. Care to join him?

  5. When Mary Savina was the observer for the League of Women Voters, she always raised an objection (violation of open mtg. law) if the council added a totally unrelated new agenda item at the meeting. This because it had not been announced/published and therefor interested citizens did not know to attend.
    Certainly Maren Swanson should know the rules on this one; so I’m surprised, and I suppose it could be debated, as to the interpretation of the law, like everything else.
    I wouldn’t take the newspapers view as “gospel” without some more investigation.

    The council has not been totally respectful of open meeting law, on some important issues, and some “roll their eyes” if the Mayor asks for materials to be provided to the public, and its a law that they be provided for a discussed item on the agenda. (The last time they messed up on this was not providing copies of the mission statement of the “blue ribbon panel” ).

    As frustrating as it is, we should all be waiting to see the results of all this mess, although there’s no reason to not have opinions along the way.

  6. Well……

    Regardless of the issue, there’s nothing technically wrong with anyone using legitimate processes in their own best interest. Sounds like everybody’s doing what they’re “supposed” to:

    Councilors are voting
    Mayor is abstaining
    City Attorney is trying to cover the City’s ass
    News media are trying to push the issue using legal process
    Plaintiff is using the process to delay release of tapes

    All of which is legitimate, albeit frustrating. Obviously everyone feels strongly about their angle; I for one am fine with waiting to see what happens, and once it’s all out and over, we can play it where it lies.

    My biggest objection to this is the HUGE diversion of time and energy into and issue (new liquor store) that simply isn’t that important and shouldn’t be a priority.

  7. Hello. I’m still fairly new to town, but I arrived just in time to watch this debacle unfold.

    I can see that almost everyone is doing “what they are supposed to do.” However, I am disturbed by the discrepancy between Lee Lansing’s public claims and his actions. He claims that he is/was suing the city in order to reveal everything that is going on to the light of day. “Clearing the air,” as he says. However, the consistent result of his suit and his behind-the-curtain actions has been to keep this mess obfuscated for as long as possible.

  8. More on this issue: To me there is a total lack of logic in the last two council actions re: releasing THE tapes. Two weeks ago they voted 6-0 to release the tapes to the public; this says to me that they feel there is nothing to be hidden in the tapes and they should go out to the public for evaluation/maybe stop speculation. At that meeting Jim Pokorney asked Maren Swanson if there was anything in the tapes (confidentiality agreement or ?) that would preclude the release. Maren said “no”.

    Now, last night the council votes , 6-0, to send the issue of the tapes to the State Office of Administrative Rules, for an opinion; That state office has a lengthy time period in which to reply, so how does that that council vote facilitate their action 2 weeks ago of wanting to get the tapes out ???

    Does the council want the tapes out or not? and how soon? You can’t blame this one on the Mayor … it would appear that the council is acting on conflicting advice about how to protect their butts from lawsuits and to heck with how foolish it makes them look to the public!

    This is like the City Administrator saying the Mayor was pressuring him to not release the Ehlers liquor store report to the council, and then at the same time he(city admin.) did NOT release the Ehlers report to the council;
    you just can’t have it both ways, guys; not if you want us to value what you say.

    The city council, and the Administrator, can’t be on both sides of the line … AND at the same time blame everything on the Mayor!

  9. The mayor (and dutiful son) sued to open up the tapes, the mayor sat in silence while the council voted to release them to comply with his demand, then privately objected to releasing them, causing the council to delay while seeking legal guidance to deal with his seemingly contradictory demands.
    It would seem there is no one else to blame, and it would seem he could end all the controversy with a simple decision to drop the suit, release the tapes and focus on the library, safety center and other needed public facilities.

  10. Griff: did the phrase “( and dutiful son)” just slide right by the sarcasm filter?

    The Mayor did NOT sit in silence while the council voted to release the tapes; he had passed the gavel to the Mayor pro tem, and it was a councilperson, NOT the Mayor , who brought the resolution to release the tapes .

    As far as “contradictory demands”: the council first voted (with the Mayor not voting because he was recused) to release the tapes … and then they turn around and vote to send the issue to the state office which may keep the tapes tied up for another fifty days. Does that fit the definition of “contradictory”?

    Let’s at least try to keep the few facts we have, straight.

  11. Kiffi, I guess I didn’t pay much attention to the ‘dutiful son‘ comment because neither Lee nor David Lansing are participating in this discussion. But you’re right, this did slide past me. I don’t like sarcastic comments in any conversations here that are aimed at people who live in the area, especially if those people might participate at some point. My apologies to Lee and David.

  12. Mine too…didn’t mean to be sarcastic…just trying to do a shorthand description of the convoluted lawsuit…Apologies to all. I thought it no more sarcastic than the faux title given Roder in the xmas trees thread. I was wrong.

  13. It doesn’t seem to me that the Council is being contradictory in their actions first to vote to turn over the tapes immediately, and then later to ask for a state legal opinion after they were told that they might be violating a right or law by doing so. They are being given conflicting advice, and given that the Mayor has already sued them over aspects of this matter, it seems reasonable that they would want to be very careful not to further antagonize him.

    As the Northfield News notes, the state commissioner’s opinion “isn’t binding, but if followed, it would give the council protection against further litigation.”

  14. After watching the last council meeting on “disc” yesterday ( missed the actual, first time in a long time) I would agree with you, Patrick, that it is not as contradictory as it had seemed , to ask for a state ruling, thereby slowing up the release of the tapes. The city attorney made a reasonable case for them doing so.

    But the tenor of the discussion was unacceptable, IMHO. The back-and-forth, of who’s to blame , who said or did what, was there confidential material in the tapes or not, did the attorney give then the correct info on that at the previous meeting, new statements about the need for the infamous closed meetings to be closed……well, on and on.

    Personal “slams”, out of order requests, courtroom style sequenced questioning, general “meanness” … all these dynamics prompted two people, both of whom I highly respect for their knowledge of both procedure and city politics, Jane McWilliams and David DeLong, to get up to speak, admonishing the council for their conduct.

    It’s not pretty, and I don’t see any facilitation/mediation helping. These positions are too entrenched.

  15. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the public to get up in the middle of a council discussion and speak to behavior. There should be a period for public comment on an issue, then the council should be left to do its work. This dialogue with individuals in the audience distracts from the work of the elected body. If they do a bad job, so be it. The result was to do what needed to be done. They’re all grown-ups, so let them thrash it out and work they’re way through it. They’re in an untenable situation right now, so tension and frustration are to be expected. The tensions will ease when this is over, whether through a legal ruling, dropping the lawsuit, or the next election.

  16. In post #21 Anne Bretts writes

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for the public to get up in the middle of a council discussion and speak to behavior. There should be a period for public comment on an issue, then the council should be left to do it’s work. This dialogue with indiduals in the audience distracts from the work of the elected body.

    I agree that such behavior would be inappropriate. That however is not what happened at this meeting. Both Jane and I had filled out our cards as required and waited for the public comment portion of the discussion. We waited to be called on and spoke only after being recognized by the chair. Jane also made it clear the she was not speaking as a LWV observer, but as a private citizen.

    In Farmington the City provides live audio and vidio streaming of City Council meetings. I think personally this is a great option for people who are busy at home or even out of town to stay informed about what their city council might be up to or acting on at the last minute. I would provde the link but it’s beyond my current level of computer skills. It’s very easy to find on the City of Farmington web site under City Government.

    I can’t believe that even though we spent somewhere around $80 -$90,000 on council chamber inprovements and now even have a tech on hand during council meetings, the City of Northfield hasn’t been able to accomplish the same thing.

  17. It seems to me that everyone is putting too much emphasis on polite behavior. This is a tough time and the councilors and mayor are getting grief from all sides — and have some really fundamental differences among themselves. As I understand it, the six councilors and staff seem to be getting along, so the difficulties are more limited than people are indicating. I think they just need the freedom to work their way through this and get it resolved, even if the process is a tad unpleasant to watch.
    The English have managed pretty well for centuries (once they got past all the Tower of London imprisonments and the beheadings and such) and even gave us parliamentary procedure. Yet if you watch the BBC, their sessions are anything but civil.
    The police chief is moving on, many issues have been resolved, we should have the results of the investigator’s report soon…things are getting done. Let’s have a little patience (and hope the lawsuit is droppd) and let city officials finish things up so we can start the new year with a clean slate.

  18. Scott,

    Thanks for clearing that up for ppl. I was confused also when I saw Griff’s comment. It must be concerning one of the mayor’s other outstanding lawsuits.

  19. Griff, you’re censoring comments without letting readers know. Scott Davis wasn’t being sarcastic, just critical of your bias in handling the mayor’s published problems.
    If this is no longer civic journalism and is a blatant political blog, then just say so.
    Of course I understand that you’re busy and that the 2-year-old photos of the governor’s ball were more vital, but others might be interested in the mayor breaking his word to the public.

  20. Anne, I have no clue what you’re referring to re: Scott Davis’ criticism of me in your comment #27 above.

    As for your comment to Ross’ “All will be revealed” post, I’ve withheld it not because of your criticism of Mayor Lansing. It’s that you continue to insert snide remarks aimed at others here, not unlike your snide remark aimed at me, ie, “Of course I understand that you’re busy and that the 2-year-old photos of the governor’s ball were more vital…”

    I’ve asked you repeatedly to stop doing that because it’s so insulting. And yet you continue to do it.

  21. Apologies, again. This has been a frustrating time. And many of us are as frustrated with other comments that run on this site as you are with mine. But this is Christmas. The report is out and requires no comment. There is no joy, only relief that at last the sniping on all sides can end. Perhaps this is finally over and we can have a truly happy new year.
    Peace on earth…and in Northfield.

  22. Why did you delete my question regarding the lack of discussion about the Northfield News articles on Saturday? It was a pretty straight forward question. You made reference in this blog about hearing about a settlement from someone, but completely ingore the articles in the paper detailing the settlement requests made by the Mayor? That doesn’t make any sense.

    Why not put the Mayor’s settlement proposal up for discussion and see what the public thinks?

    My first question was not critical, but I guess this one is… do you publish folks who are critical of your blog?

    Scott

  23. Sorry, my apology; the comment I left regarding the lack of discussion about the Mayor’s settlement suggestions in the paper Saturday is intact and was NOT deleted. It can be found in “All will be revealed” blog by Ross. I would provide a link to it, but have not advanced beyond Blog Typing to Blog Linking.

    Scott

  24. That explains it. I made the same mistake Scott did, thinking his comment had been cut. No wonder my comments seemed nuts (or more nuts than usual, to some.)
    Too many overlapping threads, too long waiting for the truth to be heard. Sorry for the impatience, but it seems the result was worth the wait.

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