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5, 2001
Testimony ends in conservation board suit
By Jeffrey Pieters
Witness testimony ended Thursday in the case of an Olmsted County
Soil and Water Conservation District board member who is suing some of
her fellow board members over alleged violations of the Minnesota Open
Meeting Law.
Olmsted District Judge Kevin Lund took the case under advisement
at the end of the 312-day trial. Attorneys have until Oct. 18 to file
briefs, then until Oct. 25 to respond to one another's filings. Lund
has 90 days after receiving the last briefs to make a judgment.
The case was filed in 1999 by Jo-Ann Wegman, a member of the Soil
and Water Conservation District board, who alleged that her
then-fellow board members illegally closed three meetings in 1998 to
discuss the job performance of then-District Manager Steve Connelly.
Named in the lawsuit were two current members of the board, Mark
Fredrickson and Kimm Crawford; three past board members, William
Fritts, Stephen Nigon and Neil Stolp; and the board itself.
A companion lawsuit, alleging defamation of character, was tried
last week in Olmsted District Court. Wegman alleged fellow board
members publicly charged her with having an extramarital affair. A
jury, however, found in favor of the defense.
In the two lawsuits, Wegman sought a $50,000 judgment and removal
of the board members named in her charges.
In the ongoing suit, Wegman claims board members illegally closed
three meetings in 1998-- on July 28, Oct. 15 and Nov. 24.
Witnesses testified that Connelly asked to attend the Nov. 24
session, but was not allowed to. Defendants said they understood the
Open Meeting Law to mean that Connelly had to ask for the meeting to
be open in order to attend.
"It's up to the person involved," Stolp said Wednesday on the
witness stand. "If they want it open, they should request it."
Wegman's attorney, William Butler, said the board unfairly placed
Connelly in the position of having to say "magic words" to attend the
The Nov. 24 session ran for more than two hours, according to
court exhibits. Connelly was fired six months later, on July 14, 1999.
He since has been elected to the Soil and Water Conservation District