by: Diane Benjamin
Surprise! This time I didn’t file it – Alderwoman Judy Stearns did.
About a month ago the Bloomington City Council had a 2 day retreat. As part of the retreat the Council met in executive session. Executive session means in secret, the public isn’t allowed to know what is discussed. The problem is there are very strict reasons under the law for executive sessions. You can read more here: http://www.citizenadvocacycenter.org/uploads/8/8/4/0/8840743/oma_guide_revised_2012.pdf
Below is a brief summary:
H. Closed Sessions
Public bodies may hold closed meetings provided that they state a legally sufficient reason in an open session for holding a closed session. A majority of a quorum present during an open session must also vote to close the meeting. While the Act allows public bodies to convene in closed session, public bodies are not required to go into closed session. What can be discussed:
- Employment Matters – Union Contracts
- Land / Investment Deals
- Security Matters
OTHER EXCEPTIONS • Consideration of complaints of discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, when closed meetings are authorized by law or ordinance prescribing fair housing practices and creating a commission or administrative agency for their enforcement. A public body may only discuss issues in closed session. The vote on issues discussed in closed session has to happen in a public forum.
Mayor Renner is alleged to have violated the law. According to the Stearns complaint, members of the City Council were told that any negative public comments about City Manager David Hales would not be tolerated. They were also told that 5-4 votes would not be tolerated, votes were expected to be unanimous.
Alderwoman Stearns left the executive session when she knew the law was being violated. She then filed a Request for Review with the Attorney General. This secret session lasted close to 2 hours. Many other items were illegally discussed. The business of the City is required by law to be done in public.
Mayor Transparency strikes again! Executive sessions are required by law to be taped. The Attorney General has sent the City a letter demanding a copy of the tape. If the Attorney General rules the executive session violated the Open Meetings Act, the City will be forced to release the tape. Alderwoman Stearns has listed to the entire tape, so the City can not claim a malfunction.
The Council almost always votes to not release the minutes of executive sessions – especially items like the performance reviews of the former City Manager. Why years later that information is kept from citizens has never been explained. Many on the Council don’t want you to hear how they talk when the public isn’t present. If the tape gets released, the public will finally know who the voted for!