How safe are city council meetings?

Shots fired and a scare at New Hope City Hall on Monday night raises an important question for every municipality: What's the best way to ensure safety at city council meetings?

Most city councils have that one person regularly showing up aggressive and unpredictable. However, unlike Raymond Kmetz, that person is typically harmless.

"Ultimately, you have to decide if you want to pull police officers off of the street in order to have them come sit inside the City Council chambers," Tonka Bay City Administrator Joe Kohlman said.

Even in tiny Tonka Bay, a city of just over 1,500 people nestled on Lake Minnetonka, they've had people they keep an eye on. If there's a particularly contentious issue up for discussion, they have called the police chief to alert whoever is on patrol that night to be on standby.

"Part of the process is we want to open it up to the public, and be welcoming to anyone who wants to come participate in our meetings. So, part of that, we have to be ready for whatever can happen, what emotions people might be feeling," Kohlman added.

Generally, cities big and small call it balance.

"What we constantly hear from our elected officials is it's so important to balance open government and access by the public with public safety," Annie Finn with the League of Minnesota Cities said.

In that balance, some cities, from small ones like Crystal where Kmetz had run-ins, to larger ones like Maple Grove have a police officer at every single council meeting. However, most only request an officer for meetings on a case-by-case basis. Other measures can include panic buttons, limited entrances and monitoring but almost never a ban on guns. The Citizen's Personal Protection Act of 2003 does not allow cities to ban guns unless inside a court building.

Generally, the reaction to Monday's shooting in New Hope was mostly comprised of empathy and concern. Fear, not so much. It's a risk that's run in a free and open political system, and a city can't control whether or not attendees show up armed.

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