In as much as the Brainerd City Council at its regular council meeting on Jan. 21, 2003, voted to deny any discussion regarding the subject of the open meeting law and in as much as I had prepared a statement that I would like to have made public as a response to the article in The Dispatch which alluded to 11 items that were alleged violations of the open meeting law, I feel that it is only fair to be given an opportunity to respond. There are no counter charges or accusations, just an open and honest response.
First, let me state that it was my hope that with the election of three new members to the City Council that the new council would be able to work together to do the city's business. The business that we were all elected to do, such as getting our finances in order, work on economic development for an expanded tax base and to be enablers for good-paying jobs for our citizens. And to work on as well as repair and maintain our infrastructures and to clean up our city.
Unfortunately, at the very first council meeting, it took 23 ballots to elect a Council President. However, that isn't all bad as it shows that those elected are determined to speak out and make some tough decisions.
At the next meeting on January 14, there were alleged violations of the Open Meeting law specifically naming Alderman Scheeler and myself. These false allegations were put together by two elected officials and a certain member of the city's staff. These false and alleged violations were delivered to The Brainerd Daily Dispatch.
On Jan. 8, 2003, I received a call from a reporter at The Dispatch telling me she had 11 written open meeting law violations against Alderman Scheeler and myself and she wanted to know the dates and times Alderman Scheeler and myself had met in the last two years.
After my interview with the reporter, I talked to Terry McCollough, publisher of The Dispatch and asked him if the newspaper was going to do a story on these alleged violations.
Mr. McCollough at that time said he didn't know a reporter was working on the story. Mr. McCollough then told me (and I am paraphrasing) that he had talked to an open meeting law specialist and based on the 11 allegations, the attorney doubted that there was a violation of the open meeting law.
At 4 p.m. on Jan. 8, I went to see our city attorney. I asked him if council members had talked to him about open meeting law violations by Alderman Scheeler and myself and he said, "No."
I asked our city attorney if he had seen these 11 allegations. He said, "No, not until now at 4 p.m. on Jan. 8."
I must ask the question to the two elected officials and staff members as to why you didn't take these allegations to the city attorney or file a charge of these violations in District Court if you really thought you had a case instead of delivering the alleged violations to the newspaper and have Alderman Scheeler and myself tried in the newspaper?
In this land that we know as the home of the free and the brave ... these great United States of America, all citizens are innocent until proven guilty by our court system.
To this council and to all citizens of Brainerd, Alderman Scheeler and I have not violated any open meeting law. I believe I know the open meeting law very well. In fact I wrote a letter to our city attorney in December of 2000 asking questions about the Open Meeting law. I received his letter in regards to that issue on Jan. 5, 2001. I have asked our city attorney in a verbal conversation and also in a written memo to give me his legal opinion on whether Alderman Scheeler and myself have violated any open meeting law based on the 11 alleged violations made public to the newspaper.
As of now I have not received a response from our city attorney. I am once again asking our city attorney to put in writing his legal opinion on these alleged violations by Jan. 31, 2003.
I am very hopeful that this issue can be put behind us and that we can (under the leadership of Council President Jim Dehen) move on and attend to the business of our city in a positive and progressive manner.
(Olson is an at-large member of the Brainerd City Council.)
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