Monday, February 13, 2012

Minnesota Governments Lack of Transparency

Data Practices Act
Defendants in Marvin Pirila & Gail Francette v. Thomson Township, etal., denied access to relevant information to their legal matter pursuant to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), even after learning it did not apply to them.  The MGDPA does not apply to towns, except those exercising special town powers under Minn. Stat. § 368.01 and located within the 7-county metropolitan area (Minn. Stat. § 13.02, Subd. 11).  Minn. Stat. § 473.121 Subd. 2 defines Metropolitan areas and does not include defendant Thomson Township.

Townships are to provide access to public data upon reasonable requests.  In this particular manner, the defendants refused to voluntarily answer information requests, letters, and emails.  Thomson Township attorney David Pritchett interfered with informal discovery by writing plaintiffs and stating they were “…hereby instructed to cease and desist from making contact with such persons for the purpose of obtaining public data held by the Town”.  Such requests by a person acting pro se are legal and especially appropriate when the town continually fails to respond to requests.

Defendants then failed to answer Plaintiffs’ Request for Production of Documents, Set I, Requests 8-10, 12, 18-22, 26-27, 30-32, 33, and 35 claiming that the “Request calls for private data under the Minnesota Data Practices Act”.  The MGDPA did not apply to defendants and was the basis by which they refused to answer previous requests for information.  All governments are bound by a duty to publish and promote openness, yet the MGDPA is being used to shield against openness and legal discovery processes.

Below is a few emails acknowledging the shortcomings of the current waiver given to townships and the unwillingness of legislators to address it.

From:Sen.Tom Bakk (tomba@senate.mn)
Sent:Wed 7/21/10 11:46 AM
To: marvindp@msn.com
Marvin & Gail,
Thank you for contacting my office. Your email was forwarded to us from Sen. Lourey's office because you are technically in my district. My legislative assistant looked into your inquiry and you can see the department of administration's answer below. I do not plan to offer any legislation in 2011 regarding townships and data practices, but would be happy to contact Thomson Township on your behalf and request the information that you are looking for.
Tom

>>> "Beyer-Kropuenske, Laurie C (ADM)" Laurie.Beyer-Kropuenske@state.mn.us> 7/1/2010 2:25 PM >>
Hi Julie,
Jim asked me to follow-up on your question. My office gives data practices/Open Meeting law advice and works on legislative changes too. There isn't any legislation that I've heard anyone bringing forward. As Sen. Bakk's constituent highlights, the Assn of MN Townships encourages townships to be reasonable in allowing access to data. Other than the Data Practices Act, there are other laws that require towns to make some data available, minutes, journal of votes, etc. Being exempt from data practices has also made it more difficult for citizens to get data they would need to document violations of the Open Meeting Law (which twps are subject to).
The rationale for exempting non-metro townships from what I've heard is that most of these townships are very small, often without any paid staff [Thomson Township has two people] to respond to requests. A few years ago, my office and the Twp Assn talked about ideas for a mini-Chapter 13 to address the limited resources of these towns. If Sen. Bakk is interested in pursuing this idea or any others, we're able to help with bill drafting and coordination with stakeholders. Feel free to let me know if you have more questions or would like to get together. LBK

Laurie Beyer-Kropuenske, Director
Information Policy Analysis Division
MN Department of Administration
(651)201-2501
fax(651)205-4219
Visit our website at www.ipad.state.mn.us

-----Original Message-----
From: Rhodes, Jim L (ADM)
Sent: Thursday, July 01, 2010 10:45 AM
To: Beyer-Kropuenske, Laurie C (ADM); Rauk, Jerod (ADM)
Subject: FW: Data Practices Act/FOIA

-----Original Message-----
From: Julie Bayerl [mailto:Julie.Bayerl@senate.mn]
Sent: Thursday, July 01, 2010 10:41 AM
To: Rhodes, Jim L (ADM)
Subject: Fwd: Data Practices Act/FOIA

Jim,
Sen. Bakk recieved the following email regarding townships and the data practices act. At the end of the email the constituent asks if there is any planned legislation to change the data practices act. Do you know of such legislation and/or do you know the reason that townships are exempted from the law?
Thanks,
Julie


Julie M. Bayerl
Legislative Assistant
Senate Tax Committee
Office of Senator Tom Bakk
226 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-8881

>>> MARVIN PIRILA 6/28/2010 12:12 PM >>>

Marvin Pirila & Gail Francette
1 N Cloquet Rd W
Esko, MN 55733
June 28, 2010

Dear Legislators:

A grave mistake was made by exempting townships outside of the metropolitan area from the Data Practices Act. They are also not subject to the FOIA. According to the Association of Townships they will voluntarily provide information upon request. This has not been the case in Thomson Township in Esko. Despite various promises by Thomson Township officials that they will respond to requests for information, they never have. This is a township that insists on keeping information secretive and hidden from public view.

The failure to enforce the Data Practices Act upon all government entities has led to a lack of transparency, as well as proper accountability. This failure has inevitably led to abuses by public officials and their likeliness to hide behind a cloak of secrecy. This must be corrected if there is to be any public trust.

Please respond and tell me what legislation is pending or proposed to fix this problem. What other recourse do individuals have to compel their local officials to answer questions when the law allows them to remain secret, even when they have promised?

Sincerely,


Marvin Pirila & Gail Francette
marvindp@msn.com

What good is legislation if the judicial branch creates their own law and ignores that of the legislative branch? Minnesota's judicial branch is a train wreck and no one will address it.  This waiver is not only unjust, it is unconstitutional as it denies due process as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  This is an overreach by government who has intruded upon the rights and liberties of individuals.

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