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"

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