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Brainerd Public Schools: Board reluctantly sends comment to city on street vacation issue

The Brainerd School Board will send a letter to the Brainerd City Council regarding a street vacation following a request for more information from council members.

The city council hosted a public hearing Monday, Oct. 1, to consider a petition from the school district to vacate portions of Williams and Northwest Third streets near Riverside Elementary School for expansion projects. During the public hearing, resident Jeff Czeczok brought up concerns on whether the board properly followed open meeting laws when initially discussing the property, and whether there was transparency after a staff member said he wanted to keep the issue on the "down-low" during a closed meeting.

Though the board is allowed to discuss property acquisitions and purchases in closed meetings, by the Minnesota Open Meeting Law it must first publicize which property is to be discussed. Czeczok pointed out that was not done in this instance.

"Before holding a closed meeting under this paragraph, the public body must identify on the record the particular real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting," the Minnesota Open Meeting Law states. "The proceedings of a meeting closed under this paragraph must be tape recorded at the expense of the public body. The recording must be preserved for eight years after the date of the meeting and made available to the public after all real or personal property discussed at the meeting has been purchased or sold or the governing body has abandoned the purchase or sale. The real or personal property that is the subject of the closed meeting must be specifically identified on the tape."

Council members agreed to table the issue until they reached out to the school board for comment. Superintendent Laine Larson provided comment to the Brainerd Dispatch later that week and said not publicizing the specific property talked about was simply an oversight, and the board has since changed its procedures.

Board Chair Ruth Nelson asked for board approval Monday, Oct. 8, to sit down with Larson and the district's legal counsel to draft a letter to the city. Board members Tom Haglin and Chris Robinson voted against the measure, with Haglin saying he doesn't like the idea of spending tax dollars on something like this.

Nelson said she understood the reasoning behind the two opposing votes and agreed with Haglin's assessment, saying it was "much ado about nothing" and expressing her disappointment with the Dispatch's headline accompanying the story about the city council's request. The headline stated "Brainerd City Council: Members table street vacation, look into school board conduct."

Board member Bob Nystrom echoed Nelson's disappointment.

"I thought this was a straightforward request, and it's disappointing how it turned out," he said. "There was nothing being hidden from the public."

Nelson added: "This board is very transparent."

The council will again consider the street vacation at its Monday, Oct. 15, meeting.