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Updated: 08/08/2013 7:18 AM
Created: 08/07/2013 2:35 PM | Print |  Email
By: Mark Albert

'Tired' of Slurs, Mpls. Police Advisory Council Meets in Private

Despite a public pledge of "transparency," the Minneapolis Police Department, led by Chief Janeé Harteau, closed a special Chief's Citizen Advisory Council meeting Wednesday to citizens and the media.

The meeting was called in the wake of two highly-publicized incidents of five white police officers caught on tape in two separate incidents - one in Green Bay and the other in Apple Valley - in which they allegedly used racial slurs in altercations with black men while off-duty.

All five officers are under an Internal Affairs investigation.

The department closed the gathering, citing state Department of Administration guidance that because the two-dozen members of the council have no "decision-making power," the body is exempt from Minnesota Open Meeting Law requirements.

The two dozen faith and neighborhood leaders who attended described a "candid" and "frank" meeting where participants "did not mince our words," according to Bishop Richard Howell.

"I'm tired of the racist slurs; it is racism - racism is across the board," Arnetta Phillips from Shiloh Temple said afterward. "But yet and still, somebody has to stand up and make change."

Addressing reporters after the more than 90-minute meeting, Chief Harteau said the Council had formed four sub-committees to address and draft reforms: community engagement, hiring/recruiting, training, and accountability.

"This is not a band-aid, this is not a one-time thing," Harteau pledged. "This is about creating institutional change and coming together as a community. And we have to allow people to say things and be open and honest and not for everyone to hear at the time."

Ron Edwards, a longtime activist in the black community, came to the meeting but was not allowed in. Hitting the front door of the chief's office with his hand, Edwards said, "What she should do is just post the enemies list on this door: 'You black people on this list can't come in.'"

"How do you have transparency and you close people out?" Edwards wondered.

When asked about Edwards later, as many of the Advisory Council members stood around her, Harteau said she "would not exclude anyone. And if these community leaders behind me felt we needed to add somebody to the list for real change, then they're welcome to add to that list."

On Monday, the chief gave members of the media a list of the members on the Citizens Advisory Council and told them there was a "special meeting" planned for Wednesday.

When KSTP-TV requested the location of the meeting on Tuesday, a spokesman emailed back, stating he was "not authorized to provide" that information and the meeting would be "closed" to media and the public.

An attorney for KSTP-TV filed a written objection with the department and the City Attorney Wednesday morning, citing the state's Open Meetings Law. KSTP's letter stated, "according to section 13D.01, subd. 1, 'all meetings' of a public body and 'of any committee, subcommittee, board, department, or commission of a public body' must be open to the public, subject only to a few narrow exceptions."

In a response Wednesday afternoon, assistant city attorney Burt Osborne relied on Minnesota Department of Administration guidance and court precedent in advising the police department that "the Minnesota Open Meeting Law does not apply," since the council "does not have any elected officials in its current membership, and the council has no policy-making or decision-making power that flows from the governing body of the city of Minneapolis. It is simply an advisory group created by the Police Chief to provide input."

The department scheduled a 4:30 p.m. "media availability" with Chief Harteau once the meeting concluded.

The following is a response from the Minneapolis City Attorney's Office to KSTP-TV attorney Mark Anfinson:

Dear Mr. Anfinson,

We are in receipt of the communication that you sent to the Minneapolis Police Department ("MPD") regarding public and media access to the Police Chief's Citizens Advisory Council ("Council") meetings.  In your email you opine that the Chief's meetings with the Council should be open to the public because the Council is a "committee" of a "public body" and therefore subject to the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. We disagree, and we have advised the MPD that the requirements of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law do not apply to any meeting of the Council, including the meeting scheduled for this afternoon.

Minnesota Courts and the Minnesota Department of Administration have addressed the issue of whether advisory groups are subject to the Minnesota Open Meeting Law.  We refer you to Minnesota Department of Administration Advisory Opinion 07-025. In that matter, the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Administration determined that the Open Meeting Law did not apply to the Free Speech Working Group created by the Minneapolis City Council to advise the elected body on free speech issues before and during the Republican National Convention.  The Commissioner opined that the group was not capable of exercising decision-making powers of the public body, even though the advisory group in that matter included two elected officials, and therefore was not subject to the Open Meeting Law.  The Police Chief's Citizens Advisory Council does not have ANY elected officials in its current membership, and the Council has no policy-making or decision-making power that flows from the governing body of the City of Minneapolis.  It is simply an advisory group created by the Police Chief to provide input. The strictures of the Open Meeting Law do not apply to the Advisory Council's meetings.

See also The Minnesota Daily v. University of Minnesota, 432 N.W. 2d 189 (Minn. App. 1998)(holding that a presidential search advisory committee to the University of Minnesota Board of Regents was not a public body subject to the open meeting law, in part because there were no members of the public body and the advisory committee had now power to set policy or make any decisions);

We have advised the MPD that the Minnesota Open Meeting Law does not apply to the Council and the Council meetings are not required to be open to the public.

Best Regards,

Burt T. Osborne

Assistant City Attorney

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