Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Burnsville's quarter million $ legislative fix, not enough

As the media poured out details of the quarter million dollar payout to the Burnsville School Districts former human resources director, legislators have been receiving e-mails, letters, and a lot of communication from their constituents.  The emphasis of the public frustration to the elected officials---Why are the reasons for the payout not public?

Slowly, but surely the Legislature had to act.  To go boldly where they have gone before, to react to the media and public attention on the story.

A legislator decided to come up with a bill.  Representative Pam Myhra introduced House File 2647.  Does it solve the problem completely?  No.

The bill may clarify what a settlement is and therefore more public data to know the reasons why.

But just like in other situations where there is publicity and public attention on a controversial item, the Legislature can move to solve part of the problem, make effort to solve it, or completely ignore it.

I have spoken with Representative Myhra and briefly with Representative Garofalo, Chairman of the House Education Finance on the bill and shared my views.

In the Pioneer Press today, it was stated that Ms. Chance filed a complaint against the School District's Superintendent with the Board of School Administrators.  What did the Board do with the complaint?  Did the Administrators Board investigate the Superintendent?

Is there a completion of an investigation of the Superintendent that can give the public more details and rationale as to why $250,000 of public monies was paid out? I would say more than likely, but we will never find out because it is not public.

Now, this is where there can be "more" legislative "fix in".

In 1995, legislation was done to allow investigations of a complaint or charge against a public official either upon completion of an investigation or if the public official resigned or terminated while the issue was pending, all data related to the complaint or charge are public.  Public official is narrowly defined, but the law only applies on the state level.

At the Conference Committee of the bill, discussion and advocacy to include it for local political subdivisions such as cities, counties, and school districts was made.  The local government associations opposed it, primarily the Minnesota School Board Association.

17 years later, the Minnesota Legislature can correct the mistake they made.  Since the law was enacted and even before then, there have been many buyouts, payouts, and settlements with a great amount of public dollars involving heads of school districts, and administrative heads of city and county departments, involved with a charge or complaint and who resign or terminate.

I think the Legislature should amend the following to include local political subdivisions. With this proposed change and what is in the current bill there can be better and improved accountability and transparency for the public on these kind of matters.

Minnesota State Statute-13.43, subdivision 2 (8) (e)
(e) Notwithstanding paragraph (a), clause (5), upon completion of an investigation of a complaint or charge against a public official, or if a public official resigns or is terminated from employment while the complaint or charge is pending, all data relating to the complaint or charge are public, unless access to the data would jeopardize an active investigation or reveal confidential sources. For purposes of this paragraph, "public official" means:
(1) the head of a state agency and deputy and assistant state agency heads;
(2) members of boards or commissions required by law to be appointed by the governor or other elective officers; and
(3) executive or administrative heads of departments, bureaus, divisions, or institutions within state government.

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