Editorial: County decision in secret is bad government

Why is the West Central Tribune "picking on" the county? Why does the Tribune care how the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners decided to name a new county administrator?...

Why is the West Central Tribune "picking on" the county? Why does the Tribune care how the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners decided to name a new county administrator?

That's a rough approximation of some of the public discussion over the past two weeks since the Tribune first criticized the Kandiyohi County Board's conduct in this matter in an editorial published Jan. 24.

We care because we believe the law was broken. We care because defense of the public's right to know is important. We care because we fear the secretive nature of that decision is evidence of a pattern of behavior that does not serve the public good.

When members of the board decided -- outside of a public meeting -- who would be the next county administrator, we believe they violated the state's Open Meeting Law. It was announced last month that the County Board intends to hire Family Services Director Larry Kleindl when County Administrator Wayne Thompson retires.

There has been no public discussion. There was no public vote. Yet there has been a decision. An expected vote later this year will be little more than ceremonial, and that does not excuse the violation.


The Open Meeting Law requires that the public's business be conducted in public, not behind closed doors or in a series of nonpublic meetings or conversations among individuals on the board. While there are limited exceptions in the Open Meeting Law for certain discussions, no public body is allowed to make decisions outside a public meeting.

Our criticism is not of Mr. Kleindl or his abilities. He has performed well in his current position as family services director. We will wish him well in this new challenge.

Our criticism is not the fact the county chose to "promote from within." While we continue to believe that a thorough search process would have been a healthy and beneficial exercise for the county after 28 years under the same administrator, promoting from within is a solid policy when there is a qualified candidate.

Our criticism is of the County Board's secret decision and what that represents -- definitely a lack of understanding of the public's right to scrutinize what its government does, possibly a lack of respect for that right and the law that protects that right.

That is why the Tribune cares and why every county citizen should care.

What if it had not been a relatively "benign" hiring decision? What if it had been a decision on increasing the property tax levy? What if it was a permitting decision to operate a large dairy or swine operation, a gravel pit or a new development?

While this secret decision by the county commissioners appears more a mistake in judgement than a conspiracy to thwart public scrutiny of the decision, it is clearly symptomatic of the greater problem -- lack of respect for open government and public participation in county government.

Other local officials in Kandiyohi County are quite disappointed in the county board's secret decision on a new administrator. They are also disappointed in their lack of opportunity to consult or have any input on the top administrative position in the county, a position that impacts every governmental unit in the county. This secret decision with no input opportunity has not strengthened the County Board's relationship with other local government units.


The facts are simple. This new administrator decision was made in secret by county commissioners in consultation with the current administrator. That is wrong.

County commisioners are elected to make decisions for the public, but that decision-making needs to occur in the view of the public.

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