Chief suspended and reinstated; Herald takes issue with series of closed meetings
Wednesday, October 03, 2012 4:55 AM
The Spring Grove Herald found out after following up on a series of tips from several citizens last week that Police Chief Paul Folz was suspended on Sept. 24 and reinstated on Sept. 27.
Folz said he could not comment on the nature of the suspension on advice from his legal counsel.
No further comment was available from the city either.
It is unknown if his reinstatement was part of the discussion in a closed meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 26, as the exact nature of that meeting is unclear.
The meeting notice was posted by City Administrator Theresa Coleman as "an emergency closed session with Attorney Marylee Abrams regarding a grievance." The meeting was held at the Spring Grove City Hall.
The Herald raised several issues with the meeting before it was convened, as well as in person at city hall before the council went into closed session. In an email sent to the council and the city's legal staff, it was noted:
After consulting with our attorney, Mark Anfinson of the Minnesota Newspaper Association (and a well-known expert on the Open Meeting Law), we raise the following concerns with this meeting:
1) We challenge the legitimacy of closing the meeting at all. The Open Meeting Law (in section 13D.01, subd. 3), requires that before closing any meeting, the public body must provide the specific grounds permitting the meeting to be closed (in other words, a citation to statute), and must describe the subject to be discussed. At minimum, this means that the name of the person submitting the grievance must be disclosed.
2) If the meeting is being closed for personnel issues, then we need to know the name of the employee, what type of personnel grievance it is, if they were notified of the meeting, and if they waived their right to have the meeting made public.
3) If the meeting is being closed just because an attorney will be present, we need to know what existing (pending) or imminently threatened litigation is being discussed (name of the party). There is not an exception for attorney-client privilege automatically, only under certain circumstances.
4) Lastly, we question the definition of "emergency" in this circumstance. It is very skeptical that any employee grievance could be so serious that it has to be handled under the confines of an emergency status.
All members of the council attended the meeting as well as the city's union attorney Abrams. Neither Coleman nor city attorney Joe Hammell were there.
After the meeting, Mayor Saundy Solum released this statement, "A closed meeting of the Spring Grove City Council was held concerning a grievance filed by an employee. The closed meeting was held in conformance with the Minnesota Open Meeting Law."
The council held another closed meeting on Aug. 21, the legitimacy of which the Herald questions. It was noticed as an unidentified "personnel matter."
In a follow-up email back in August, Coleman later added, "A complaint was filed, and the investigation is pending."
The council was scheduled to have a third closed meeting on Oct. 2 to "discuss a personnel matter."
The Herald will be filing a request for an advisory opinion with the Minnesota Department of Administration on the legitimacy of these closed meetings.