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Ostrander open meeting law challenge goes to court

Fri, Aug 15th, 2003
Posted in Features

The first jury trial to take place in the temporary courtroom set up in Chatfield City Hall will concern a suit brought by Mark Schumann, Jim Start and 40 other citizens from Ostrander against former Ostrander mayor Victor Feine and former council members Kenneth Shaw and John Schraeder. The trial started last Thursday and is expected to take two days.In the suit, the plaintiffs contend that Feine, Shaw and Schraeder violated the Minnesota Open Meeting Law by meeting in a series of one on one encounters by phone or in person to discuss the termination of Ostrander city employee Darrell Berg. When the December 3, 2001 Ostrander Council Meeting was held, a letter from each of the three elected officials calling for Bergs dismissal as a city employee was presented. Council member Merlin Christenson, who was not at the December 3 meeting, and council member Marjorie Hebrink were not consulted by any of the three defendants about the plan to discharge Berg in advance of the December 3 meeting.According to court documents, the plaintiffs allege that there were four interactions between mayor Feine and council member Schraeder, and two between Feine and Shaw, discussing Bergs termination prior to the December 3 meeting.In a motion for a summary judgement in the case, Attorney David Joerg representing the plaintiffs wrote: The so-called quorum rule does not apply in this case because Feines serial meetings with defendants were accomplished for the purposes of avoiding public discussion and discourse, and for forging a majority in advance of the December 3, 2001 council meeting on the issue of Darrell Bergs discharge.Joerg also argued that the actions by the defendants constituted a vote in secret to terminate Berg. The Minnesota Open Meeting Law states clearly that meetings of public governing bodies must be open to the public. In hearing the case, the jury must find that the defendants met in a number of serial meetings of less than a quorum for the purpose of avoiding public input. If found guilty, the court could impose sanctions and require the three defendants to pay attorney fees and court costs. Attorney Daniel Heuel of OBrien and Wolf law firm in Rochester is representing the three defendants.

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