Montana governments and agencies have to give specifics on who they are protecting when closing meetings

HELENA — Montana’s government bodies and agencies must give some details about whose privacy rights they are protecting when justifying closing a meeting that would otherwise be open to the public, the state Supreme Court ruled.

Justices in a 5-0 decision Tuesday said that the Wolf Point School District Board of Trustees’ explanation for closing a four-hour meeting to the public before firing a schoolteacher in 2015 was insufficient.

Teacher Kristine Raap had waived her right to privacy to keep the meeting open, but the board closed it anyway and prohibited her from recording it. The board cited the privacy rights of unnamed individuals who were not in attendance as justification for the closure.

Justice Dirk Sandefur’s opinion said there is no evidence that an outside individual provided any information, and that a “particularized showing” is needed to comply with Montana’s open-meetings laws.

Montana’s constitution and statutes presume government meetings are open to the public, and the burden is on the agency to justify a closure due to a person’s right to privacy. That justification must be descriptive enough to provide a legal and factual basis for the closure, without disclosing private information, Sandefur wrote. Read more…