Aug. 8, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
President, Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists
Chairman, MN SPJ Freedom of Information Committee
MN Society of Professional Journalists Disappointed by Minneapolis Police Chief’s Decision to Close Advisory Meeting
The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) condemns the decision by Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau to close the meeting of the department’s Citizens’ Advisory Council to members of the public and news organizations.
MNSPJ praises Harteau’s statements since taking office that she wants to begin a new era of transparency to improve the public’s trust in her department. We agree that citizens have a right to know what’s going on in government, and it’s the department’s responsibility to ensure that openness. The state’s largest journalists’ organization hopes Harteau follows through with her statements.
Wednesday’s meeting was convened to discuss racial conflicts, including recent allegations that off-duty Minneapolis Police officers used slurs toward black men. Ironically, the move to prevent citizens from attending the meeting comes the same day top department officials touted an ‘unprecedented’ effort to mend fences with citizens, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
KSTP-TV challenged the department’s decision to bar media from the meeting. After the closed-door gathering, Harteau told reporters the department did not need another intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice to solve its problems.
The department argues it had the authority to close the meeting. But Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law was written to ensure transparency from officials who are accountable to the public. “Whether the Open Meeting Law applies in this case or not,” said Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists’ President Anna Pratt, “nothing in the law requires Chief Harteau to conduct such a meeting in private. For a department that has said it wants to mend fences with its citizens, it’s incredibly short-sighted to keep the citizens out of key meetings in that process.”
Pratt said the Minneapolis Police Department and Minneapolis City Council should review their guidelines for when meetings can be closed to the public — even so-called advisory meetings that may not be formally subject to the open meeting law — and ensure that such a meeting is not closed to media and residents again.
“We applaud the local media for challenging the police department to be more open in its dealing with this important community issue. It’s only by letting the public into the process at all stages that public trust can be ensured,” said Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists’ board member and Freedom of Information committee chairman Jonathan Kealing.
The Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) is a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the largest broad-based journalism organization in the world, representing approximately 8,000 journalists. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.