Council OKs extended Weasner pay bump, but appears to violate open meeting law

City Attorney Corky Reynolds says the action is permitted even if the law was violated, and that if someone wants to pursue a claim, a determination will have to be made.

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

The Crookston City Council Monday evening approved an extension of the salary bump Finance Director Angel Weasner received earlier this year when she agreed to serve as interim city administrator, but in the process of discussing the matter leading up to Monday’s action it appears the council violated the open meeting law.

The open meeting statute prohibits public governmental entities, at special meetings, from discussing matters or taking actions on items not included on the special meeting agenda, because the public isn’t provided any notice that the non-agenda matters are going to be discussed or acted on.

The Aug. 17 special Ways & Means Committee agenda included several items, including a temporary contract with the Crookston Blue Line Club for an ice sheet at Crookston Sports Center in September, and a continued discussion regarding the future direction of the Crookston Visitors Bureau. Also included on the agenda, which is typically for this time of year with the council, were several proposed 2021 City of Crookston department budgets for council members to be updated on and discuss. The meeting agenda concluded with a closed session, in accordance with statute, so the council could discuss its compensation offer to Amy Finch, who’d accepted the City’s initial offer to be the new administrator but still had to negotiate a compensation package.

During the discussion, Mayor Dale Stainbrook acknowledged Monday, he brought up the possibility of extending Weasner’s 15% salary bump to the end of 2020, given the likelihood that Finch would need a considerable amount of time getting up to speed and meeting City staff and other community leaders, and would frequently lean on Weasner for the remainder of the year.

Extending Weasner’s increased salary until Dec. 31, 2020 was included on the consent agenda for the council’s Aug. 24 meeting. The consent agenda typically includes numerous items that don’t involve additional council discussion and are approved with a single vote. But Monday, At Large Council Member Bobby Baird asked that the consent agenda item relating to Weasner’s pay be added to the regular agenda for further discussion.

When the meeting reached that point on the agenda, Baird wondered if the council could approve the resolution because it originated from last week’s special meeting, and that he’d been told it’s illegal to add agenda items to a special meeting agenda without informing the public. 

Baird asked City Attorney Charles “Corky” Reynolds for an explanation, and Reynolds responded by noting that the action itself is permitted and legal, but that it could have been the result of an open meeting law violation. “They do not void the action, but it’s an open meeting law violation,” he continued.

When At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten suggested that the resolution regarding Weasner’s pay be tabled, Reynolds said “the violation already occurred, it’s not void.” The action itself of extending Weasner’s increased salary is “effective,” Reynolds added, “but not clean.”

Reynolds also said if anyone wanted to pursue the claim of an open meeting law violation, a process would commence to determine if the law was indeed violated, or not.

Stainbrook took the blame for the mistake. “I take responsibility for it,” he said, “and I was well-informed after the fact.”

The council ended up voting on the resolution regarding Weasner’s extended pay bump and it passed 6-1, with Baird voting against.