Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota’


Minnesota county takes ‘bold step’ to make free information free of charge

Board members of Minnesota’s Winona County agreed last week to make all government data free of charge in a “bold step toward true transparency,” according to the Winona Post.

The board plans to adopt a one-year policy to lift fees for copying data and then assess the system at the end of the trial year and adopt a permanent policy. They’re expected to vote on the policy in the coming weeks, the Post reported.

Currently, Minnesota statute 13.03 explains that all government data is considered public unless classified as private and citizens can “inspect” or view the data for free. But if they want copies of the data, the government may charge them the cost of “searching for and retrieving government data, including the cost of employee time, and for making, certifying, and electronically transmitting the copies of the data or the data,” according to the statute.

Depending on how many copies requesters need, some fees are as high as thousands of dollars, the Post said.

All of Minnesota’s 87 counties currently charge fees as high as thousands of dollars for some or all of the data they provide. Winona would be the first county to lift fees.

The consensus has been four months in the making since County Administrator Duane Herbert suggested adopting a “flat fee” or tax on public information in March. Commissioners rejected the policy for fear that it conflicted with Minnesota law statutes forbidding fees for information beyond the expense of copies and employee time to retrieve the data.

The Post wrote several articles pushing the new free information policy, and when board members heard community outcry supporting it, they agreed that public information belongs to the public, as county chairman and former radio news personality Wayne Valentine said.

Minnesota Newspaper Association Attorney Mark Anfinson applauded Winona County commissioners, calling their decision “a remarkable breakthrough that has statewide ramifications.”

“I think it’s extraordinary because it reflects one of the more positive features you can have with a government agency, and that’s willingness to experiment, to try things out, to see if there are possibilities that haven’t been thought of before — maybe better and new ways of dealing with a difficult issue can be discovered,” Anfinson told the Post. “It’s hard to really experiment in government, but once in a while people are bold enough to try.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

 

FOI Daily Dose: More public records in North Carolina and Minnesota

North Carolina rules private school police must disclose records

New legislation in North Carolina requires campus police at private colleges and universities to publicly disclose records, including narrative descriptions about arrests and 911 calls, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

The General Assembly ratified the bill Wednesday, and it’s awaiting the governor’s signature. A former student journalist at Elon University, Nick Ochsner, filed a lawsuit two years ago when his campus police refused to produce an incident report about a student because Elon was a private school.

Minnesota sheds more light on public employee payouts

Changes to the Minnesota state public records law broadened the type of administrators who must explain why they were paid to leave their jobs early, according to the Pioneer Press.

The public records law, known as the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, applies to teachers, school administrators and other government workers. Rep. Pam Myhra (R-Burnsville) introduced the measure to improve transparency in 2012, arguing that since public employee payouts are funded by public money, the public should know where its money is going.

Despite some gains, administrators still don’t have to disclose the complaints leading up to their resignation. The executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators told the Press this protects public employees when the complaints that cost them their jobs are “totally false.”

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

FOI DAILY DOSE: State bills promote open gov, OpenGovernment Minn. website launched

State bills support transparency in Mass., La.

New pieces of legislation aim to further transparency at both the state and city government level.

In Massachusetts, four measures have been introduced that, if passed, will make the legislature accountable via the state open meetings law.

Two years ago, the legislature exempted itself from the open meetings and public records laws through the passage of an ethics reform bill.

In Louisiana, a measure has been introduced that would make all the governor’s records public.

The state currently exempts the governor from disclosing records that are under a “deliberative process,” according to a Sunlight Foundation blog post.

New York City is also jumping on the transparency bandwagon with the passage of a bill that will make executive orders from the mayor’s office available online.

Prior to the bill’s passage, executive orders were only available through FOI requests. The bill will require all memorandums of understanding, which are documents detailing agreements between various parties, and related documents to be made available online by April 1, 2012.

Minn. becomes sixth state to launch OpenGovernment website

OpenGovernment Minnesota, a transparency website that tracks state government happenings using official documents, social media alerts and other avenues, launched June 17.

It is the sixth state to launch an OpenGovernment website as part of the Sunlight Foundation’s joint project with the Participatory Politics Foundation.

The project aims to increase transparency at various levels of government throughout the U.S.

Minnesota joins California, Texas, Wisconsin, Maryland and Louisiana in having OpenGovernment websites.

– Morgan Watkins

Morgan Watkins is SPJ’s summer Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern and a University of Florida student. Reach her by email (mwatkins@spj.org) or connect with her on Twitter (@morganwatkins26).

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