"Concerning" is putting it mild.
That's what Rochester City Attorney Terry Adkins said about a tour of the 125 Live facility, which included five Rochester City Council members, but excluded the media and residents who attended the public meeting prior to the tour.
In this instance, taking a quorum of the council into a closed portion of a city-funded building and telling members of the public they can't tag along is more than concerning. It's a violation of public trust.
Minnesota has specific rules outlining when elected bodies can gather outside of the public eye. A tour of new construction is not on the list, even if there is a concern about public safety. If it's so unsafe, why was there even a tour? If the risk was minimal, why not ask those wanting a peek at the project to sign a waiver, removing any liability concerns?
The tour was on the agenda for Monday's committee of the whole meeting at the Rochester Recreation Center, which presented the assumption it was open to the public. By adjourning the meeting prior to the tour, the council slammed the door on anyone who attended the meeting to see what their public dollars had bought.
By excluding the media, 125 Live officials made sure the door was locked.
125 Live Executive Director Sally Gallagher says she was unaware of open-meeting requirements. However, city officials should have been wary and raised concerns.
We aren't saying the media should be allowed special access. We are saying the public — media or any resident — should have access for any gathering involving a quorum of elected officials, even if a discussion about public business wasn't planned.
Since residents — and the media in its role as a public watchdog — were barred from the meeting, we have no way of knowing for sure what was discussed by 125 Live staff and the city council members. The lack of information simply spurs questions.
At a time when 125 Live appears to be struggling with its public image and needs community support to raise more than $1 million for move-in expenses, it does not need to be taking steps that raise questions. Rather, it should be creating an open image that invites community conversation.
The choice to exclude the public from the tour is concerning at the least.
The fact that all involved don't seem to realize it, takes that concern to a new level.