I went to the Mayor of St Paul's budget speech at the Amsterdam today which is a new "venue" as the Mayor called it to help revitalize Wabasha Street. Typical budget speech with cuts, lay off possibilities, and the raising of property taxes.
What caught my attention though was the cutting of 50 hours of public access to the St Paul Library System. Living in downtown St Paul I wanted to know if my neighborhood library would be losing hours. As soon as the speech was over I looked for Kit Hadley, Director of the St Paul Library. I asked her if the downtown Central would be losing hours. She stated that the library budget will be released on Friday. In other words, in her view it is not public. I have known Ms. Hadley for decades she knows what I lobby and advocate for. I stated to her that the data is public and that I could place a Data Practices Act request for it. She indicated the data would not be released until Friday.
I tried again stating all I want to know is if downtown Central will be losing hours. It is not a hard question to answer. Her response was the Mayor stated that no information could be released about the Library budget until Friday. I stated to her it's plain BS that I am being told by her. I have interacted with Ms. Hadley many times before on issues of public access and accountability. Usually she is good on those issues, but today she is just following orders.
Decided to track down the Mayor since he gave the order not to have any information about the Library budget released until Friday. Direct question to Mayor Coleman, Is downtown Central Libray going to lose service hours? He did not know. I told him how I asked Ms. Hadley and she would not tell me based on the Mayor's direction. I stated to him it is BS that a simple question as to whether or not the downtown library will lose hours cannot be answered.
Mayor Coleman was annoyed I believe about my question and statement. We interacted for a minute or two. He stated that the information will be released on Friday.
The Coleman Administration has a knack for wanting things to be secret or kept from the public until they decide to give it out even though it is public data. In 2009, Mayor Coleman wanted to keep budget data completely secret and away from the public until the Mayor gives his speech. With the recent selection process of the new St Paul Police Chief the administration wanted to have meetings closed. There are other examples.
Before I left the Mayor, Erin Dady, the Chief of Staff told me to send her an e-mail. I asked her a few minutes later if I did would she tell me whether or not the downtown library would lose hours. Once again she stated the refrain the library budget will be released on Friday. I again stated that the data is public. I also stated the City is just playing the game that government does with the public when they want to control the information and not release it. Before I left the Amsterdam venue, Ms. Dady stated that the employees should know before the public does about hour cuts.
What I experienced is not what many members of the public experience when they ask questions or seek answers because most individuals do not persist. What I encountered with the Mayor, the Library Director, and the Chief of Staff was not pleasant. I am sure they were annoyed. Why they could not answer a simple question or tell me I can give you the answer later today is beyond me. It must be that secrecy and control thing. Wait til Friday.
By the way I had a great conversation with St Paul Superintendent of Schools Silva. I have never met her before. I told her who I was and that I was critical of her in regards how she kept secret the school budget last year. Indicated to her that hopefully she has learned from her experience and the public criticism that came with that episode. She stated she has. Is there hope?
Finally for those those who want to know what malarkey means. Go here: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/malarkey
Well, that's all folks for now. Got to rush across the street to City Hall to place my Data Practices request in to find out if the downtown library will lose hours. By law that data is to be easily accessible for convenient use so that a simple question like mine can be answered. Will see.