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Willmar School Board member resigns

WILLMAR — Willmar School Board member Dan Croonquist of Kandiyohi resigned the board Tuesday after the board held a private meeting for nearly two hours.

The meeting was closed to the public improperly and violated the Minnesota Open Meeting Law, according to an attorney with the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

Croonquist’s resignation, which was effective immediately, came after the conclusion of the regular board meeting and after the board’s private meeting that began at about 5:30 p.m. and lasted until about 7:15 p.m.

The reason given for closing the meeting was for “preliminary consideration of allegations against a person under the board’s authority.”

Board Chairman Nathan Streed read a statement after the closed meeting: “The meeting was closed for preliminary consideration of allegations against the School Board.

At this time, the investigation is closed, and no disciplinary actions will be taken. At this time, board member Dan Croonquist has decided to resign for personal reasons.”

No reason was given for the resignation. Croonquist left immediately after the meeting and declined to make any comments.

Streed did not answer questions about the events that might have led to the private meeting or Croonquist’s resignation. “That’s our statement, and that’s what we’re saying,” he said, indicating a sheet of yellow paper with his handwritten statement on it.

Preliminary consideration of charges is a legitimate reason to close a public meeting under the law, but it wasn’t used properly in this case for several reasons, said Mark Anfinson, who is retained by the newspaper association and is an expert in the Open Meeting Law.

The board can’t close a meeting to discuss allegations against an elected official, he said.

“The members of the school board are not subject to the authority of the school board in any real way,” Anfinson said. “They’re equals with each other. They can’t be disciplined, they can’t be removed. ... They’re elected by the people.”

The problems with closing the meeting to the public came early on, when the board voted to close the meeting without naming the person who was the subject of the closed meeting.

A critical element of the Open Meeting Law is naming the person, he said. Without that, it places the legitimacy of the closed meeting in doubt.

Discussion of any allegations involving a board member should be discussed in an open meeting, Anfinson said.

“It’s unpleasant, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s pretty much an illustration of the old cliché: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” he said.

According to information from the Minnesota School Boards Association, the board has the power to appoint a successor to serve the remainder of Croonquist’s term in office. He was first elected in 2010, and his current term would have lasted through the end of next year. There is no special election if less than two years remain in the former board member’s term.

News Editor Susan Lunneborg contributed to this story.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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