Avoiding the technology temptation when doing the work of the public
March 11, 2013
by Ryan Gueningsman

A house file introduced in this year’s Legislative session is one the newspaper industry is keeping a close eye on.

The bill (HF 653) would add a qualified exception to the Minnesota Open Meeting Law for the use of social media by members of a public body. It defines social media and provides that certain uses are not “meetings” for the purposes of the law.

This issue greatly concerns me in my position as editor of a local newspaper.

If public officials are allowed to have important discussions on social media (which may already be happening), and only rubber-stamp the final decision in the open meetings, it limits the public’s ability to provide input that could/should be considered on an issue, and also eliminates the public officials having to explain what led them to make the decision they are making.

The Legislature should work on the opposite approach and consider prohibition/limitation of communication among our public officials via social media.

The work of the government needs to be done in the public, and this is never more crucial than it is now with the advancements and temptations of technology to have that sensitive conversation in a non-public setting. I am in favor of modernizing the open meeting law, however I feel this is not the direction it should be going.

The notion of a public body perhaps voting on an issue via Facebook or social media is absolutely absurd. I have no issues with a member of a government body utilizing technology such as Skype to participate in a public meeting, and things of this nature. However, when that communication is allowed to take place on computer screens/phones instead of in the council, school board, township, or county board chambers, it is a disservice to all concerned.