Small-town Minnesota government unresponsive to records request after open-meetings controversy
ROOSEVELT, Minn.—Half a month after a small-town City Council member in northern Minnesota allegedly threatened a reporter during a public meeting, the investigation is still open and council members have dodged phone calls and an open records request.
At the Oct. 1 Roosevelt City Council meeting, reporter Doris Knutson from Baudette's weekly Northern Light Region was sworn at by the city clerk and said she felt threatened by a council member who towered over her and yelled.
Knutson had questioned the council about the legality of a meeting they held in September without any prior notice. Minnesota law requires cities to notify the public three days prior to meetings and make attempts to notify any requesting parties. Knutson said she'd requested to be notified.
City Clerk Alyce Siats said she lost her temper and said "'I'm so g**damn sick and tired of this bulls***'" before leaving the meeting less than five minutes after it began. Knutson said City Council member Arlyn Stewart then moved toward her and seemingly towered over her as he berated her. He adjourned the meeting immediately.
Knutson said she and the publishers of her paper filed a report with the Roseau County Sheriff's Office after the meeting.
Sheriff Steve Gust said the investigation is nearly finished, but said charges against Siats or Stewart are still possible.
Knutson said she's been covering Roosevelt, a town of about 150 people near Lake of the Woods, for the last year because she heard rumors of dysfunction within the city government. She said council members disregard open meeting laws, are short-tempered and have screamed at citizens during meetings.
Knutson said the city was unable to produce financial records for the last eight years.
The Grand Forks Herald sent the city a Freedom of Information Act request for access to financial records, Oct. 1 meeting minutes and all emails regarding Knutson from the last six months. The request was sent to the city clerk email Oct. 8.
Siats called the Herald that afternoon and said she resigned.
She said she put in notice to be finished by the end of October three months ago, but would leave the post early. She said the job has been advertised, but she is unsure who will fill the role in her absence. She said open records requests would likely be handled by Stewart.
Roosevelt has been operating without a mayor for more than a year, and Northern Lights Region publisher Julie Bergman said her brother had stepped down from the position because of concerns related to council conduct. Siats said Stewart has been unofficially acting as mayor.
The Herald has left a half-dozen voicemails for Stewart related to the council and inquiring about the open records request. The request asked for a response within two business days but has yet to receive a reply more than a week later.
The League of Minnesota Cities said Friday they would also attempt to contact Roosevelt and remind officials about the Herald's FOIA request.