Last week Burnsville’s City Council met to vote on the 2011 tax levy for city residents (previous coverage: here and here). A few residents stood before the council in an attempt to sway their opinion away from raising taxes against people who are unemployed, having to pay more for their health care, or have just had other taxes rise to pay for school districts, counties, etc. Unfortunately the majority of the Burnsville City Council already made up their minds about their votes and these speeches were not going to change the minds of any of the councilmembers.
Please watch the particular portion of the meeting above (it’s about 6 minutes total) where a Burnsville resident comes to speak to the council and is disappointed to find that his breath is wasted and that he was under the misconception that discussions about taxes happened at worksessions and not council meetings. During this discussion the resident accuses the council of having these discussions behind closed doors something which the mayor clearly took great offense to as she raised her voice, became visibly upset, and began a lengthy explanation (backed up by Dan Kealey and Mary Sherry) about open meeting laws and the council’s adherence to them.
Mary Sherry later mentions a most important fact about open meeting law which according to the State is only in effect when there are three or more members of a group meeting:
The court determined that the two council members did not constitute a committee or subcommittee of the council because the group was not capable of exercising decision-making powers.
The councilmembers’ explanation of their adherence to the open meeting laws are correct–when they meet as a group larger than two. But some may consider their failure to mention their one-on-one interactions as outright and purposeful deception. Meetings occur “behind closed doors,” as noted by the resident, they’re just not happening in more than groups of two. Lobbying for decision-making happens all the time whether or not the councilmembers want the public to know they do it or not.
At the end of the clip the council votes 3-2 in favor of raising taxes 5.2% or about $15 a year on a median-priced home. The members who voted in favor of raising taxes were Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, Mary Sherry, and Dan Gustafson with both Dan Kealey and Charlie Crichton voting against the measure. I am certain that most residents who are aware of Dan Gustafson’s financial situation will no doubt see the irony in his voting in favor of a tax levy increase being that he has filed for bankruptcy so that his debts will be forgiven, something most of the residents who voted for (and against) him are not able to do.
What do you think about Burnsville’s 5.2% tax increase for 2011? Do you believe it’s fair for a man who has filed for bankruptcy to absolve him of most of his debt load while not holding any viable employment aside from his councilmember stipend to vote in favor on a tax increase for others? Do you agree that the majority of decision making occurs in one-on-one meetings and not when a quorum of members are present? Whatever you have to say about Mayor Kautz’s purposeful misdirection about meeting behind closed doors go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.