Concerns spur county to address open meeting laws

By Kay Braddock

  The handling of a Public Safety Commission meeting held earlier this month has prompted county officials to seek to educate county board members on open meeting laws.

During the hour-long Public Safety Commission meeting, comments were made by citizens and board members about the job performance of Prairie County Undersheriff Greg Huber.
Days following the meeting, Huber talked with Prairie County Attorney Becky Convery and Sheriff Bill Klunder in an impromptu meeting, where Huber brought up his concerns that the meeting wasn’t held according to state statutes regarding open meeting laws. 
“There needs to be some education to county boards,” Convery said during an interview last week. Noting most boards are headed up by lay people who may be unfamiliar with state laws, Convery noted there’s a balancing act that should be followed when it comes to holding open meetings while providing assurance to county employees of individual privacy rights in regards to discussions of their job performance.
County boards have an obligation to err on the side of privacy of the individual employee, Convery said.
Convery, who didn’t attend the March 7 meeting, said there was some confusion as to whether Huber agreed to keep the meeting open to the public or not. 
“Quite frankly, I don’t think he anticipated the way the meeting was going to go,” Convery said.
The county is considering purchasing copies of a MSU Extension publication, “Serving on County Boards, Districts, Commissions and Committees in Montana”. Copies of the 45-page booklet, which costs $8 a piece, could be kept on hand at the courthouse for board members to review, Convery said.
Along with purchasing the booklet, Convery said the Prairie County Board of Commission is drafting a letter to Huber.
In an interview last week Huber said he has spoken with an attorney, but has little desire to take the matter to court.
“The county doesn’t need another lawsuit,” Huber said. “But I don’t need to be treated the way I was treated there.”
Calling the meeting “a head hunt for me,” Huber pointed out no meeting agenda was presented and said he didn’t agree to keep the meeting open. 
A request of a public letter from the county to Huber, has been made, Huber said. “I’m waiting on the county’s response.”
Published March 30, 2011

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