In an opinion issued Wednesday, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said an executive session of the Lincoln City Council met requirements to close the meeting for attorney consultation under an expanded definition added by lawmakers last year.
During a Jan. 9 special meeting, the council voted 3-1 for an executive session “to receive attorney consultation related to legal actions associated with labor and employment of Sgt. Richard Hoffer.”
Stenehjem said Hoffer “made specific claims” to Lincoln City Attorney Justin Hagel "regarding alleged workplace harassment and discrimination accusations against the city and had hired a lawyer" and “it was reasonable for the council and its attorney to conclude that ‘reasonably predictable litigation’ could ensue.”
Discussion during the executive session also met the expanded definition of “attorney consultation” added in the 2017 legislative session, Stenehjem wrote. He also said Hagel kept the board on topic and warned against actions that must be made publicly.
"The executive session ended with the council discussing its legal strategy and next steps regarding the potential lawsuit and possible disciplinary action," Stenehjem wrote.
The Bismarck Tribune, KXMB-TV and Hoffer’s attorney, Mike Geiermann, each requested an attorney general opinion regarding the executive session.
Prior to the meeting, the Tribune could find no current criminal, civil, labor or Peace Officer Standards and Training Board-related cases involving Hoffer.
“The Tribune isn’t disappointed with the attorney general’s opinion," Tribune editor Steve Wallick said. "Our concern was the Lincoln City Council wasn’t following the law and it’s good to know they did.”
KX news director Tia Streeter said the network had no comment. Geiermann did not return a message for comment.
At the time of the meeting, several Lincoln residents criticized the meeting’s closure. Resident Brandon Schock said he didn’t think the closure’s procedure was proper. Lincoln City Councilor Tom Volk voted against entering executive session after questioning its circumstances.
Lincoln Mayor Gerarld Wise said he hadn't yet had a chance to read Stenehjem's opinion but said he's glad the AG "found in favor of the city and everything was fine."