The city of Brainerd is asking its attorney to determine if committee meetings need to be televised after a council member asked the cable company to televise a committee meeting without council approval.
The issue was placed on the council's agenda by council member Gary Scheeler, who was upset that a Sept. 29 special meeting of the Safety and Public Works Committee he chairs was called to discuss disputes from an area contractor was televised on Charter Communications cable channel 8 without the knowledge of the council or the committee beforehand.
"I'd like to set a policy that if other meetings are being televised we'd be made aware of it," said Scheeler.
Council member Bob Olson, who asked Charter Communications to televise the Sept. 29 Safety and Public Works Committee meeting, said it was important to televise that meeting because the outcome could cost the city money. However, the television cameras were not asked to be on for a second Safety and Public Works Committee meeting on Sept. 29 to discuss assessments for several city projects, which followed immediately after the meeting to discuss the contractor disputes.
On Monday, Olson said he wished there were enough television cameras to televise Personnel and Finance Committee meetings as well as the Safety and Public Works Committee meeting.
"I know when we (installed television cameras) in 2001 there was some objections by some council members to televising these meetings," said Olson, saying that by televising meeting the public doesn't have to rely on The Dispatch for information.
"I feel we shouldn't hide in backrooms when discussing city business," Olson continued, pounding his fist on the council dais. "There are things they don't want the full public to hear. That's what I feel.
Scheeler said there's nothing hidden at the Safety and Public Works Committee meetings. "Every issue we do discuss is brought to the full city council," said Scheeler.
Scheeler made a motion, which was seconded by council member Lucy Nesheim, to televise all full council meetings and to only televise committee meetings with council approval.
That motion, however, was tabled by a 4-3 vote after council member Mary Koep asked for a legal recommendation from City Attorney Tom Fitzpatrick. Voting against tabling the motion were Scheeler, Nesheim and council president Jim Dehen.
Koep said it was her belief that televised meetings were an extension of Minnesota's Open Meeting Law and that all meetings should be on television.
"It's not a prerogative of the council to decide which of its meetings are public," said Koep.
Nesheim said she believed the issue of televised meetings was a policy issue, not a legal issue.
The city council and all city committee and commission meetings, including the council's two standing committees -- Safety and Public Works and Personnel and Finance -- are open to the public.
Olson said he'd do it again, and told the council later in Monday's meeting that he would ask Charter to televise another special Safety and Public Works Committee scheduled for 3 p.m. on Oct. 13 to further discuss the contractor disputes.
When told by Dehen that Charter wouldn't be allowed to televise the meeting until a recommendation is made by Fitzpatrick, Olson shot back: "So you're saying the meeting will be held in the backroom?"
"You're not putting words into my mouth," Dehen said in response to Olson.
Dehen told Olson the meeting was still public, that anyone -- including The Dispatch and Lakeland News -- could be present.
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