Despite objections from The Brainerd Daily Dispatch and a city council member, the Brainerd City Council went into a closed session for about a half-hour Monday night to discuss a proposed settlement with a peace group that was barred from marching in the Fourth of July parade.
The Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace is pursuing a settlement of claims with the city concerning the decision of Brainerd and Brainerd Community Action to bar it from the 2003 parade.
BACP claims the city's and Brainerd Community Action's decision to bar the peace group from the parade violated that group's and its members' rights to free speech. As of Monday, no lawsuit had been filed by the BACP.
The council initially hesitated in making a motion to close the meeting. "I'm not going to make that motion," said council member Gary Scheeler.
City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick informed the council that the attorney hired to represent the city, Twin Cities-based Cliff Green, requested the council meet with Fitzpatrick to discuss terms of a settlement.
The Dispatch contended the closed session didn't fall under the attorney-client privilege of Minnesota's Open Meeting law because BACP has not filed any litigation against the city.
Council member Bob Olson, who voted against closing the session, said he agreed with The Dispatch.
"I also feel any settlement that would be talked about in a closed meeting should be talked about in an open meeting so the public is informed like the rest of us are informed," said Olson.
Council member Anne Nelson Fisher questioned what would happen if the vote to close the session failed.
"Will the attorneys at some point consider allowing us to have discussion in open session so we can conclude the matter?" Fisher asked. Council president Jim Dehen noted if the council opted not to go into closed session Monday the council meeting would be adjourned and Green would have to be contacted for advice.
Dehen also noted that the closed session would be for discussion purposes only and if any vote were taken on a settlement it would be done at a public meeting.
On a motion by council member Mary Koep and seconded by council member Kelly Bevans, the council, by a 6-1 vote, chose to hold the closed session based on the advice of Green. The closed session began at 8:30 p.m. and was concluded at 8:55 p.m.
"We're following the advice of the city attorney and the (League of Minnesota Cities) attorney. I would support this," said council member Lucy Nesheim.
In a statement read by Fitzpatrick, Green said: "The attorney for the Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace and I have been exploring terms which might produce a settlement of claims and a lawsuit which the BACP will otherwise file against the city. Both the lawyer for BACP and his client are approaching a possible resolution of this dispute constructively and in the spirit of cooperation so that the parties might avoid a threatened lawsuit."
Olson, council member Kelly Bevans and Mayor James Wallin didn't attend Monday's closed session. Olson, Bevans and Wallin were not named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by The Dispatch following a July 25 closed city council meeting on the same issue.
"Even though I'm unable to attend, I'm going to support motion (to go into closed a session). It's on sound advice from our attorneys," said Bevans. "It makes sense at this point and time, to discuss our options in a closed session."
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