Monday, July 27, 2015

Data request frustrations leads to letter to U of Minn Regents

“A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages its own integrity and operation. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of its citizens and mocks their loyalty.”
Russell Long

I spoke with a student from the University of Minnesota recently about his frustrations with the U not responding to his data requests and communication.  Granted, government can be slow, but not this slow. 

The University of Minnesota has a long history in my view in frustrating the media and the public to access to public data.  For many years, the University of Minnesota and the Regents argued they were not part of the the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and Minnesota Government Data Practices Act until the Minnesota Supreme Court finally decided the issue.

What the student decided to do was to send a letter to the Board of Regents, University of Minnesota.

Here it is:

"July 23, 2015

University of Minnesota Board of  Regents
600 McNamara Alumni    Center
200 Oak Street  S.E.
Minneapolis, Minnesota    55455

Dear Members of the Board of Regents:

This letter is intended to inform you of recurring problems with the Office of Records and Information Management at the University of  Minnesota, and to inform you of my belief that the University is currently in violation of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA).

I have requested and not yet received public records under the Data Practices Act (Minn. Statutes, Chapter 13) from the University of Minnesota since November 2014. Susan McKinney is the Director of Records and Information Management under the Office of the General Counsel.  As she is the designated MGDPA Responsible Authority, I directed my requests and related communications to Ms. McKinney.  Some of my data requests and follow up communications have also been copied to Deputy General Counsel Tracy Smith, who has been aware of my frustrations for months, but    hasn’t taken action to prompt compliance with the law.   

There are currently twelve outstanding data requests.  Of these, one is from November 10, 2014, three are from December 14, 2014, and eight are from May 30, 2015.  Multiple written reminders and telephone messages to Ms. McKinney have been ignored.   

On May 31, 2015, I wrote four emails, one for each outstanding data request, that discussed and chronicled the full history of my communications regarding each data request. These were sent to both Susan McKinney and Tracy Smith.  After numerous unanswered follow-up phone calls, I finally got an email from Ms. McKinney on June 3, 2015.  It stated only that my email communications of May 30 and May 31 had been received and that "I will respond to your messages as soon as possible." I have received no further communication regarding any of these outstanding data requests.

It has been over seven weeks since Susan McKinney emailed to state that she would respond "as    soon as possible" to my email communications in regards to my outstanding data requests.  My November 10, 2014 data request is now eight months old and my December 14, 2014 data requests are now over seven months old.  My other requests are seven weeks old.

As an undergraduate student pursuing my education here at the University of Minnesota, it has become exceedingly difficult for me to obtain public data needed to conduct research, review, and analysis for projects that are part of courses I am taking at the University—courses I pay for and am graded on. I am proud of my ability to self-direct challenging educational experiences by integrating extracurricular efforts, personal interests and extensive volunteer activities into my  formal undergraduate education.  However, in some cases I have had to forego projects because of a lack of timely response to my data requests by the MGDPA Responsible Authority for the    University, and her supervisor, the Deputy General Counsel.

I write to you today because the lack of timely response to my data requests is hindering my   education and is illegal.  As the University’s designated Responsible Authority for data requests, Ms. McKinney’s failure to respond to my data requests is in violation of both University policy and state law (Minn. Statutes, Chapter 13).  You are now on notice of these facts.

My goal with this communication is to seek your assistance in resolving this matter expeditiously so   that I receive the data I have requested and the University corrects its noncompliance with the MGDPA.  However, if I continue to face resistance to fulfilling my data requests, I will not hesitate to use all legal means to obtain access to the public data I have requested.

Please respond to this letter within ten business days.   


Eric Bauer"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Free Data Practices workshop in Burnsville

How is your government spending tax money?

How much information does it collect on you?

What are your rights as a citizen to access government data?

On  July 23, 2015, Saint Paul-based non-profit Public Record Media (PRM) will host a Freedom of Information (FOI) workshop at the Burnhaven Library in Burnsville, Minnesota. The event will run from 6:30pm-8:00pm.

The workshop will explore how members of the public can use FOI laws (both Minnesota and federal) to obtain government records of interest to them. The presentation will feature comments by Rich Neumeister, a long-time record requester and open government advocate. An introduction will be given by members of the PRM board. The event is free to the public. Participants are encouraged to bring ideas for their own public record requests.

PRM’s workshop is one in a series of events that the organization is hosting throughout the state under a grant from the Washington DC-based Sunlight Foundation. Past events have been hosted in Rochester, St. Cloud, and Minneapolis.

Public Record Media is a Minnesota-based non-profit organization that conducts public record-centered publication, legal work, and education.
For further information:


The Burnhaven Library is located at 1101 W. County Road 42 in Burnsville, MN.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Open meeting law, one fight among many over the years

There are many laws to keep government accountable and scrutinized in Minnesota, the two primary ones: Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and Open Meeting Law.  I have been just as "active" with the Open Meeting Law as with Data Practices over the decades

Over the past week or so I have been going through my old memos that I have sent to policymakers.  I ran across one that dealt with the Open Meeting Law.  It was from 1988 and it dealt with issue that St Paul City Council was going to close a meeting from the public.  I felt it was a violation of the Open Meeting Law.

The topic was a proposal to regulate adult entertainment.  Throughout the 80's, Councilman Bill Wilson was in the forefront of that issue, the old Faust Theatre was in his neighborhood.  He wanted the Council to discuss what the legal ramifications might be if his ordinance passed in a closed setting.  I opposed the action of what the City Council was going to do so I sent this memo, June 9, 1988.

"President James Scheibel
Vice-President William Wilson
St Paul City Council

On Tuesday, June 7th, 1988, the City Council has decided to hold a "closed meeting" on Tuesday, June 14th in the City Attorney's office....  Mr Byrnes (Asst City Attorney) stated that the reason why is to discuss litigation strategy and what ordinance and form Mr. Wilson's ordinance (88-501) should take in order to avoid litigation from several private interests.

I disagree that the City Council can close its meeting based upon Mr. Byrnes rationale to discuss what form legislation should be in order to avoid litigation.

The Minnesota Supreme Court noted in 1976, Mpls Star/Tribune vs. HRA, to close meetings based on attorney/client privilege is to be done cautiously and seldom in situations other than in relation to threatened or pending litigation.  Mr. Byrnes when asked the question by Mr. Long (City Councilman) as to closing a meeting and if it conflicts with the Open Meeting Law, he stated no.  Mr. Byrnes also stated that even though there is no pending litigation by the private parties it is "reasonable to anticipate litigation" so therefore this is the rationale to close a city council meeting.......

I believe closing the city council meeting on June 14th, 1988 at 830AM, is an abuse of the attorney/client privilege based on rationale that I have previously outlined, and secondly, it is abuse against the democratic and open process which our government and country stands for.

Since there is no pending litigation, and there is no detailed factual basis I think to ascertain a threat to a lawsuit, and since a meeting of a public body cannot be closed (my opinion) based on rationale to discuss what "form" an ordinance should take in order to avoid litigation, I urge you to provide the leadership to question if there should be a closed meeting.......and to keep the Council from violating the Open Meeting Law."

Issues like I described above still continue today, reasons why "we" must be vigilant to hold our elected officials accountable.  Northwest Publications (Pioneer Press) filed for a motion in District Court the day before the meeting to keep the city council meeting open.  The case went before the Court of Appeals.. They affirmed the meeting had to be open to the public.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Out of the Past" ideas for change at Legislature

In the St Paul Pioneer Press today there was an article by Bill Salisbury, entitled "Remember the legislative chaos?  Minnesota lawmakers trying to find a better way" Parts of the article came up with various suggestions by legislators to prevent the "chaos".

The story reminded when I was interviewed by Shawn Towle in the late nineties (1996-98?), for his Checks and Balances column.  He interviewed a number of people who influenced the legislative process for a story on lobbyists, paid or unpaid.

At that time, I had been at the legislature for a long time, of course longer now in 2015.  He asked me what changes I would like to see at the Minnesota Legislature.  I said the following:

"I'd like to limit the amount of legislation that gets passed because the volume of legislation dilutes the oversight of laws and creates inequities.  For that reason, I'd like to see a rule by which legislator's could only introduce 15 bills a session so they'd have to choose which are the most important to them.

I would also like to see a process by which individual citizens could introduce legislation directly, rather than going through their Representative or Senator.  I believe some states have this type of process currently in place.