Goodbye Blog, Hello “Openness”

It looks like I may have to sign off from this blog now that I am about to be officially sworn in as a School Board member. Here is an opinion from the Minnesota School Boards Association:

Your Question:  One of our newly elected school board members would like to blog as a School Board member.  He is concerned about whether other board members might read or be able to comment on his posts (and what might violate OML).  He is also seeking guidance on ensuring that he does not inadvertently violate Open Meeting Law. He also wondered if he commented on a Facebook post that three other Board members might see, is it an OML violation?  While I found the powerpoint presentation on OML on the MSBA site, I could not find anything specific on blogs or social media.

My Answer: These are bad ideas due to the potential for problems and illegal occurrences involving Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law and data privacy violations. Whenever school board members communicate outside an open meeting, the potential is raised for them to participate in an illegal meeting. Whenever a quorum or more of the school board members, a school board committee, or a school board subcommittee discuss something outside an open meeting, an illegal meeting (“serial meeting”) has occurred.  Serial meetings are possible in person, on the telephone, by regular mail, or by electronic  communications. There is no way to control it.

While I would like to be able to use blogging and social media to interact more effectively with the community I serve, Open Meeting Law seems, ironically, to force me to limit my efforts at open communication. Unfortunately, state law does not seem to have caught up to the realities of the 21st century connected world.

10 thoughts on “Goodbye Blog, Hello “Openness”

  1. I have run up against similar interpretations here in VT, and I agree that OMLs aren’t in sync with 21st century communications, social media use, etc. I really don’t think you should stop blogging, as I think such public communication does serve a very important role in public service. Plenty of legislators, especially at the federal level, have their own websites, twitter accounts, FB pages, blogs too probably, etc. I think it’s the “localness” of a school board that poses the issue, but I don’t think it’s a problem that can’t be solved. Provide information, ask for feedback, but don’t engage in debate, and ask the other board members to do the same. Also, work with your legislators to see if the OML could be updated to address just such issues. School Boards Associations, by the way, are almost always conservative with their interpretations of such things, and in many other ways too. Keep Blogging!

  2. I agree with the decision, although I also agree that open meeting laws haven’t evolved with the advent of so many new forms of communication. A blog posting, and its subsequent comment area, can quickly move beyond open communication and become the de facto domain of a small number of people, thus violating the spirit of open meeting laws. An elected official can’t (or shouldn’t) make the assumption that the broad public is reading what is posted on the internet.
    I think providing information and seeking input is a great use for an elected official’s blog, but comments and responses should perhaps be sent to you as emails, i.e., communication between a constituent and an elected official.

  3. I agree with Ruth. I see the technicalities of what you may be worried about, but I also think, if the superintendent can meet serially and individually with each board member before each meeting, then YOU can blog with your constitutents! And maybe the school board needs to agree not to comment on one anothers’ blog.

    I hate to see your terrific openness and proactive communication with folks get shut down. We need ONE school board member who cares!

  4. Rob,

    I have the same question for the city. I have asked the city administrator to check to see if a blog can be noticed as an open meeting thereby meeting the requirement for an “open meeting”. The city just spent $50,000.00 to get an on-line forum to discuss city issues, and the city councilors have been advised that we shouldn’t provide any comment. That is silly. What could be more open than a public on-line forum?

    Maybe you could check to see if the attorney can provide an opinion if the blog were to be noticed – just like any other meeting.

    David Ludescher

    • David… Betsey Buckheit had a blog while she was a councilor and I never saw that it caused any problem. As you are aware, she is an attorney, and I’m sure did not want to be in violation of the OML.

      I think there is absolutely no problem with you, or Rob, or Betsey blogging as long as it does not become a dialogue between councilors, school board members , etc. … after all , you can meet and discuss one on one with any citizen, as can Rob…

      To you both : I understand you’re not wanting to ‘push the issue’, but there is precious little interchange between elected officials and citizens; obviously I think more is needed.
      Please, please , please don’t drink the kool-aid or wear the muzzle, :-)

      Go for it!

    • The Superintendent just called to let me know that he spoke to the school district’s attorney about whether blogging was permitted under the Open Meeting Law, and that attorney would prepare a written opinion that blogging is perfectly appropriate, as long as other Board members don’t comment on the blog.

  5. Rob, while I certainly respect the purpose and intent of the Open Meeting Law, I’ve seen it used less for public protection and more as a tool for muzzling people and keeping them compliant. “Better safe than sorry” does not apply when one is working with, or for, a system that really needs to change. Nothing will change if everybody just upholds the status quo.

    There are several options that would allow you to keep blogging (which I, as someone who voted for you, hope you will) without falling foul of the OML. I like David L’s idea of posting a notice, but I suspect the cautious souls who offer the city- and school board-sanctioned legal opinions will say that isn’t possible because a meeting has to have a specific time, location, purpose, etc. etc. and the statutes haven’t caught up with social media yet.

    In the meantime, you could

    1) Turn off the comment feature, or
    2) Ask fellow board members not to comment, and have the moderation feature turned on so if they do, it just doesn’t get published;
    3) Continue doing what you’re doing, while seeking an advisory opinion from IPAD (, perhaps to pave the way for some updated legislation…

    I’m sure you’ve thought of all this. I just want to go on the record as a card-carrying taxpaying citizen who helps fund the school district, and say that I hope that you will NOT stop blogging, but rather blog about this issue as well as others you encounter. If for the time being you need to turn off the comment feature, I suspect your readers would understand.

  6. I heartily second Tracy’s post. I think you are setting a wonderful and much-needed example for other school board members–showing them that they should and must pay attention to constituents–not just administrators, when it comes time to making important decisions. I feel like the “opinion” above is more about muzzling you than it is about any open meeting law.

  7. Rob… something I forgot to say previously: Why don’t you speak with Betsey about this? maybe she will be able to resolve what need not be a ‘quandry’.

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