Members of an appointed committee advising the city of Minneapolis on a massive redevelopment of the north Minneapolis riverfront asked journalists to stop taking photographs Wednesday night, prompting a journalist to leave in protest.
The City Council appointed the committee last year to help guide the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal. The committee is made up mostly of residents from north and northeast Minneapolis. It has held several meetings over the past year to fine-tune the plan as the city prepares to ask the state Legislature for $20 million for the project.
MPR News photographer Evan Frost and MinnPost reporter Jessica Lee said committee members asked them not to take any more photographs or make recordings of the meeting.
“Mpls City Council has appointed members of the community to oversee the Upper Harbor Terminal project, and the advisory committee just requested that journalists not take any photos/recordings of its meetings (despite MN’s open meeting laws),” Lee tweeted Wednesday.
The committee’s bylaws direct that its meetings be open to the public. The state’s Open Meeting Law says that “with limited exceptions … all meetings of public bodies in Minnesota must be open to the public.”
After an extended discussion, Frost left the meeting. Later, a chairperson of the committee said reporters would be asked to identify themselves and to not take photos of members who didn’t want to be photographed, said Colleen O’Connor Toberman of the nonprofit Friends of the Mississippi River, who was at the meeting.
O’Connor Toberman said the topic of when photographs could be taken has been raised by committee members during several meetings, which have been attended by several city officials, including Council Member Phillipe Cunningham, who represents north Minneapolis neighborhoods. She said that at another meeting late last year, videographers with FOX 9 were also asked to stop filming.
“The city staff have continued to just sit silently every time the issue comes up,” she said. “I don’t expect community members to fully understand what their options are, but the city staff should be very clear on this: These are elected and appointed leaders within the city.”
On Thursday, Cunningham acknowledged that preventing media from recording or photographing public meetings is in violation of the Open Meeting Law. He said that city staff has explained the law to committee members in the past and would be doing so again in the future.
He added that “the Black community has not had a respectful relationship with the media,” and that the attempts by Frost, Lee and other members of the media to defend their reporting “does not help to alleviate the fears and the concerns that the committee has.”
“Last night, they got railroaded by the media,” Cunningham said. “There was no pause, there was no reflection, there was no engagement.”
Committee members raised other concerns near the end of Wednesday night’s meeting, O’Connor Toberman said, including lack of diversity within journalism. Most of the advisory committee members are people of color.
“I’m empathetic to these concerns, but it’s an open meeting,” she said.