Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two meetings: prescription records and license plate scans

Today I had a choice to make.  I could have gone to the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Information Policy Group meeting which dealt with license plate scans being collected and retained by police by the millions or to the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy Advisory Board that oversees the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program (MNPMP) database which has over 7 million prescription records on a million plus Minnesotans.

I decided to go to MNPMP meeting because I am an advisory board member representing privacy concerns.  Every year there is an annual meeting talking about what legislation will be coming for the legislative session.  In past years there has been discussion about proposals to allow law enforcement easy access to your prescription record rather than the current law which is only through a search warrant or sharing your prescription records to others without you knowing about it.

Well the legislative draft bill came out and was discussed point by point.  The part I did not like is where the health-related licensing boards which includes the licensing of nurses to social workers will have direct access to licensee's prescription records if they are under investigation in certain situations. I stated at the meeting something like this, "Build a database for one purpose, and others will come for other purposes."  This is so true in the world of databases.  Points I raised were ones like, Would the individual know about their records being used, or why is prescription record which was collected for one purpose, now being used for another purpose without the person's consent or knowledge.

The Board of Pharmacy though I must compliment has been steadfast in following the law which the drug database is regulated by. 

Now to the Criminal Justice and Juvenile Information Policy Group meeting which was to make a decision about the collection and retention of millions of records of where you and I travel if we happen to be owners of cars collected secretly by the cops.

Per Eric Roper's Star Tribune Blog post  the Policy Group made up of Commissioners, judges, and others decided to make the license scan data private, but deleted the retention of 180 days for the data if there were no hits for law enforcement investigation.

Now I have to scratch my head on this one.  By deleting the retention of 180 days, is the Policy Group saying with all intents and purposes, DO NOT KEEP OR COLLECT LICENSE SCANS ON INNOCENT AND LAW ABIDING PEOPLE, or are they saying the COPS CAN COLLECT ALL THE LICENSE SCAN DATA THEY WANT ON INNOCENT AND LAW ABIDING PEOPLE AND KEEP IT AS LONG AS THEY WANT.

I am perplexed.

By making it private there is no accountability as to how law enforcement will use this data.  My position has been all along if law enforcement is to use the license scans it should be only used for the hit that happens when a plate is matched with same.  For example, if a plate/car is hit with a match for a stolen car, police will do their action.  Under current law, some data will be private or confidential, but after the case is closed a great amount of the data is public. This maintains accountability and transparency.

On the other side of the coin if license scan data was to be maintained by the cops on innocent and law abiding people, the data should remain public for accountability and transparency purposes.  Law enforcement in Minnesota has had too many problems with databases over the past decade.  Who is Watching the Watchers if the data is secret?

Now I read the quote of Justice Anderson in the Strib piece in regards to the reason why the data should be classified as private.

"The problem with this data [is] it has -- to my mind -- some of the highest potential for misuse [than] about any kind of data we keep," said Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson. "And if this data is out there public, just think about ...a stalker...divorce cases."

I disagree with the Justice.  Every kind of public data can be misused, and some current public data even higher potential then license plate scans which have no names attached.

But what about the misuse by law enforcement of this kind of data? Should law enforcement agencies of Minnesota collect and retain movements of law abiding and innocent people?

Now if the Policy Group by it's decision meant that Minnesota law enforcement cannot collect and retain Automatic License Plate Recognition data by the millions on innocent and law abiding Minnesotans and can only use and retain it with "hits" in which that data remains private, that is a good policy choice to begin discussions with at the Legislature.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Email to Minnesota Criminal Justice Policy Group on License Plate Cameras

This is an email which I sent to some members of the Minnesota Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice Information Policy Group about their vote which they will hold on December 12, 2012 in regards to License Plate Scans.  Some may not get it because access to their email address is hard to come by.

"I have been a long time member of the Minnesota Criminal Justice and Juvenile Justice Information Task Force since it's inception.  Recently the Task Force took on the issue of Automatic License Plate Recognition(ALPR).  During the first discussion of the topic I voted no, because I think it is important for the task force to be true to it's mission as I view it and give the Policy Group the "full scoop" on what ALPR's can do, what reasons why law enforcement should be collecting this data, how will it be integrated in the criminal information system, and other related issues.  I do not believe it lived up to that expectation.  At that first meeting I and the representative of the Attorney General were the only ones that voted no.

Granted there was a working group organized to discuss the retention issue, but the decision was already made to make the license plate scan data private.  I was of the belief that the working group of the task force was not going to entertain other issues related to Automatic License Plate Recognition, which was the case.  On November 9th, 2012 the Task Force voted on the report from the work group recommending 180 day retention and the data be classified as private. I could not be at the meeting, but I stated to Dana Gotz for the record to mark me as a NO vote.

A basic rationale to have ALPR, for example is, car plates caught by cameras may be checked with known plates of a stolen car.  A “hit” could happen which then lets the police know the car may be stolen.  Law enforcement may take appropriate action.  But my concern is the collection of millions of innocent law abiding people's travels and movement which could be termed "non hits".

It has been my experience with my long and active interaction with Minnesota law enforcement on civil liberty and information issues the cops will find many uses for this kind of data which even you, the Policy Group, or the public may not even be aware of.  Even in the literature given to law enforcement as a guide/manual it is suggested the license plate data can be used to data mine for patterns and to link to databases.  A manual which I obtained about ALPR's directs law enforcement about using this new "toy" for Geo Fencing, pattern recognition, watch list development, and the broad category of "Homeland Security".

Should we routinely track innocent motorists in this way? The broader question is: Should law enforcement agencies of Minnesota collect and retain movements of law abiding and innocent people?  My answer is clear, it's no.
Bottom line, Minnesota law enforcement agencies who have the readers can track, record and store data on people on our streets, regardless of whether individuals are suspected of any crimes or not. Whether or not it is narrowed to only the "hits" to people suspected of crime is a decision that begins with the Policy Group."

License Plate Scan proposal voted on tomorrow

The location of the meeting where there will be discussion of a proposal to make license plate data collected by Automatic License Plate Readers classified as private data and retained for 180 days and sent to the Minnesota Legislature will be here:

Criminal & Juvenile Justice Information Policy Group Meeting
Date:  Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Time:  1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Location:  Room 230, MN Judicial Center, 25 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

St Paul City Council take time to know what you do

The St Paul City Council at it's December 5, 2013 meeting will be discussing and voting on their 2013 Legislative package(Item 25 on agenda).  Tucked in the the city's legislative desires is a simple sentence which says:

"Support a classification for criminal intelligence data consistent with our partners in law enforcement."

Now when I became aware of this I asked myself three questions:

Do the City Council members know anything about this issue and what it means?

Are they aware of the contentiousness of the proposal and debate about criminal intelligence at the Legislature for the past several years?

And does the public have a right to make comments on this proposal?

My answer was no.

So what I did I sent an email to members of the St Paul City Council and staff stating to them this was not a simple act of passing a one sentence statement, but can have:

1. Impact on individual civil liberties and privacy.

2. Allows for innocent and law-abiding people to be placed in files and databases at a low threshold of reasonable suspicion.

3. Consequences of First Amendment activities being monitored and under surveillance by law enforcement.

4. Issues of racial profiling by law enforcement, and

5. Have less accountability and transparency of law enforcement activities by making public data secret.

This afternoon I decided to follow up with the lobbyist for the City of St Paul and also some Council members.  The lobbyist was not pleased with my email.  We had some discussion.  Her perspective is the St. Paul Police are asking for the City Council to support this position.  I basically said that this is and has been a contentious issue at the Legislature for several years.  It is important to let City Council members know that, I stated.  I got the impression she did not feel the one sentence support for making data secret was not a big deal.

I then met with two City Council members ever so briefly about the email I sent.  One member had just read it and had to think about it.  Another Council member was gracious enough to speak with me and give me a copy of the St Paul Police Department response.  We bantered for a minute or two more and then I was struck by the elected officials remark saying "It doesn't matter."   The comment was in response about possibly removing the "Support a classification for criminal intelligence data consistent with our partners in law enforcement."

I took the remark to mean that generally nobody cares about a 14 word sentence being a part of the 2013 St Paul Legislative package.

I care and I think many other residents in St Paul do.

By voting in favor of a "criminal intelligence classification" proposal allows law enforcement to keep secret information on individuals who police think may commit a crime. The low threshold used to get into the intelligence file is reasonable suspicion. Should government be collecting information on people who are law-biding in their secret files?  How are First Amendment activities protected from surveillance?  What information that has been public for decades in Minnesota no longer will be?  Who will the information be shared with?  What information that is now public will no longer be public and made secret?  Where is the accountability and transparency?

"It does matter" members of the St Paul City Council, how you vote on legislative proposals.  By supporting proposals you are speaking for 285,000 people.

The St Paul City Council having recently voted to payout $300,000 plus to Anne Marie Rasmusson should be mindful of the creation of new databases and law which creates similar situations and penalties.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chief Harteau, promises, promises, and questions

The front page of the Star Tribune local section rang out with the new Minneapolis Police Chief promising "integrity and transparency" for the largest local law enforcement agency in the state.  The agency which has a history of lawsuits, complaints, and in many instances not wanting to comply with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

So a set of questions I would like to ask the new Chief:

Are you familiar with the basics and nuances of the Data Practices Act as it applies to a law enforcement agency?

Explain to the public what transparency means to you?

Do you support collecting information on innocent law abiding Americans?

Can you define what the relationship between you and the Minneapolis Police Union should be?

Transparency is a buzz word which many administrators and politicians promise, but do not implement.  Take for example, President Obama.  Many times it is only an agencies interest to be transparent at their choosing or when they are in trouble.

I have been aware many times when data is clearly public and law enforcement agencies refuses to release it.  They want to fight about releasing it because it may embarrass the agency or administration, but will release public data faster than the speed of light to show the positive things they do.

The Strib story also indicated the Chief  is "reviewing every police unit and function " and wants to do more training.  Two suggestions:

An extensive review regarding the process and procedures as to how the public gains data from the Minneapolis Police Department through the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

Make sure when Minneapolis Police use the many databases the cops have access to, they follow the law.  What will the training for that and the enforcement be?

I hope for the best to the new Chief and more than likely if we have not met before, more than likely we will.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The New Information Brush Off

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Health Care Reform Task Force meeting on November 15th, 2012.  The reason I went was to find out about possible legislation to do away with Minnesota medical privacy laws.

Our state laws are more protective of privacy for patients with consent and give us greater rights than federal privacy laws.  There has been an interest for years by health providers, health plans, and business/professional interests to have our state be "dumbed down" to only have minimal privacy protections and rights.

I saw a letter sent to Commissioner Jesson, Minnesota Department of Human Services, dated October 26, 2012, which asks the Commissioner, Health Care Reform Task Force and the Dayton Administration to consider changes to our state medical privacy laws.  I asked some people who represent groups who signed the letter about it and what it means.  I got responses from we want to HIPAA'ize Minnesota medical privacy laws, in other words do away with protections and rights for patients and follow federal law.  Another person stated we need to change the state law because it is "burdensome and cumbersome", which means less control of your medical information and who it goes to.  Another comment was from one of the largest health providers in the state, we want to consider modifications to change consent provisions.

I asked some members of the Task Force if they were going to pass recommendations that would "dumb down" or do away with our state medical privacy laws.  Some said they were concerned, others said we need changes to be able to share medical data with others without consent.

I went to the head staff person of the Task Force to ask about the medical privacy recommendations that the group is considering.  The first response was "They're online."  I said, I did not ask if they're online or not, but generally what are the recommendations.  Again stated directly to me, "They're online."

The staff person and I went back and forth, with the person stating that they are online at their website.  I then just gave up and indicated to the staff person that the response to a person asking a question could have been much better than saying "They're online."

The government agency website is becoming an excuse in some instances for government not to answer questions that we the public directly ask of it.  This should not be.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

License Plate Readers and the Legislature

The 2013 Legislature will be considering a proposal that takes law enforcement data gathering to new heights.  Sanctioning the use of new technology and making secret the data collected by it.

Automated License Plate Recognition(ALPR)is the new technological tool.  Basically, its cameras set up stationary on places like bridges or light posts.  Another way is to be attached to roving or sitting patrol cars in parts of the city or countryside "sucking" up thousands of license plate numbers.

With this new tool or "toy" of law enforcement becoming known through blog posts and media reports there needs to be full public discussion of its merits, uses, and implications.  Law enforcement officials need to be asked tough questions by the public and policymakers.

As I have been following the issue of ALPR's for a long time I would like to see several questions answered by law enforcement officials-

A. Why do law enforcement agencies such as Minneapolis, St Paul, and others get ALPR's and start the collection of movements of law abiding and innocent people without public discussion?

B. Why did Minneapolis Police who have collected millions of license plate scans on law abiding and innocent people not have any protocols, policies, or procedures until the Star Tribune did its story?

C. What authority do Minnesota law enforcement have to collect millions of records on law abiding and innocent people and then retain it?

D. Why did the City of Minneapolis seemed surprised that the license plate scans were public? Should they not have already known?  The presumption of data being public has been law for decades.

E. Is there a violation of state law in the collection and storage of data on individuals because it may not have been authorized by the legislature or local governing body?

Tough questions to answer.

Law enforcement may say something like this:

"We are granted authority by government to maintain order and pursue the bad guys.  And we will do whatever it takes if it's legal."

The problem with that line of thinking is that it does not allow the the public to "police the police", ask the questions with answers to see if their actions are legal, but also to evaluate if the tactic, effort, or change compromises civil liberties, accountability, and transparency.

Starting in January 2013, the Legislature will gets its chance to weigh in on ALPR's, as the ultimate state body of "Who watches the watcher's?"

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Holding Minnesota Corrections "feet to the fire"

I was utterly appalled when I read Paul McEnroe's investigative piece in the Star Tribune this morning about health care and prison inmates.  What came to my thoughts immediately where three things.

1. The arrogance of Minnesota Department of Corrections(DOC)officials not wanting to speak with Star Tribune.
2.  Release of a public statement which raises more questions and need for answers.  From my view an insensitive statement which explains nothing to the public, and
3. Who's running the health care system for people in Minnesota Corrections, the Department or Corizon, who by public contract provides medical services for DOC.

The refusal of either the Commissioner of Corrections or top medical administrators to talk on record about this is insulting to the public who wants accountability and transparency on matters such as this.  Rather than speak with the Star Tribune the DOC release a very generic public statement which seems to come right out of a PR handbook.

I am left with the feeling that nine deaths and millions of dollars paid by the State of Minnesota for negligence of care are "quality of insurance issues" which are "endemic to the health care industry".  The statement goes on to say the DOC meets the "community standard" of care as required by law.  Tell the public DOC what is the "community standard" of care?  Who determines the "community standard" of care?

The Star Tribune story indicates from their reporting that Corizon, formerly, Correctional Medical Services has "broad authority" to run the medical operations.  With this broad authority that Corizon has, who is effectively overseeing the contract?  Are there any independent reviews done by a third party of medical services provided in DOC in the last five years?

I am somewhat confused as to who the prison nurses are ultimately responsible too.  Nurses play an important role in that first attention that is needed for medical service and treatment.  Is there a convoluted relationship with Corizon where nurses serve two masters, the contract company and the State of Minnesota.

Who will take the initiative and responsibility to bring sunshine, ask questions, and bring accountability to the public on this disgusting situation brought to the public's attention?

For starters, the appropriate Committees in the Minnesota Legislature.  Secondly,  Governor Dayton should instruct DOC officials to talk and come forward with the media and public about the situation.

Thanks to the Star Tribune for a great story and their use of the Data Practices Act which is a helpful tool to bring this kind of story to the public.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Data Practices Act, A tool to keep power in check

Over the past several months I have done a number of data practices requests involving government entities. Those requests vary from law enforcement agencies and use of their databases to school districts and their relationships with private consultants. I have relearned again from doing those requests and speaking with a number of people from the public to media it can sometimes be a chore to get access to public data.

Why is that?

One reason that stands out to me is the initial skepticism that government has in complying with the law when a person requests to inspect public data. When a person asks for public data such as budget information or a report it can be made immediately available or you may be asked a number of questions like who are you, why do you want the data, and what are you going to do with it.

Another reason could be just the attitude of an individual or a number of individuals.  For example, I asked a local agency for public data that could raise issues and public discussion about appropriateness and accountability of an action of the agency.  In the process of getting the public data their data practices person told me--"It can be like pulling teeth around here to get info."

Depending on what you ask for it may be immediate, days or even weeks until you get the data.  Some government agencies do not comply with the law that says public data should be in a "condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use."

In a conversation I had with an employee who is responsible for data practice compliance, she stated there is no money to train government employees or to teach them how to comply with the law.  She also stated that data practices are the lowest of priorities in many agencies.  Ironic is it not, if law enforcement agencies only did some basic training and education they could have saved hundreds of thousands dollars of taxpayers $$$ with the Minnesota DVS database scandal.

Even though some agencies may not comply with the law, the majority try to do so.  This is evident by the news media reports that have been published or aired on such stories as the St Paul Police crime lab problems or the license plate scanners that are collecting millions of records on law abiding people in Minnesota and my own experience.

I have used data practices requests many times to find out how government acts and operates, but also what agencies may be planning for the public and if they are complying with the laws of Minnesota.

The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act is and can be an effective tool to check on the awesome power of the government.  It takes persistence though by the person making the request for data sometimes because the government in some situations is not in a hurry to give you the government data that would embarrass it and make the public ask questions.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

John R Finnegan, Champion of Open Government, Thank You

When I first started appearing at the Capitol in the late seventies I heard the name of John R Finnegan as being in the forefront in the battle for open government.  I was aware of who he was because I read the Pioneer Press/Dispatch.  But I did not meet him until some time in the early eighties in his upstairs wood paneled office in the paper's building off 4th Street.

I think it was over some issue with the St. Paul Port Authority wanting to make government data secret.  I felt intimidated to meet this man who I heard a lot about as being the giant in the good fight for open government.  As I entered his office with a tie on he very much put me at ease.  He was that kind of man.

Up until recent months I would call him for a few minute chat letting him know about what's happening on some data practices/open meeting issues.  Asked what he thought.  Mr. Finnegan had an impact on me with his directness, but also with his view that what is good for the news media is also good for the public in regards to public access, no double standards.

I collected a great number of John R Finnegan's columns which he did on data practices and open meeting laws.  They are great primers why we need open, transparent, and accountable government.

One column I dug out of my files was about an issue referred to by Don Gemberling in the Pioneer Press story about Mr. Finnegan's passing.  The issue is Senate File 873 introduced by Senator William McCutcheon in 1979.  Mr. Finnegan described it as the "Secret Police and Closed Government Act."  It was also had some powerful co authors, Sen Merriam and Sen Tennessen.

The bill if had become law would have severely limited the public data that is now accessible to the public today. The legislation stated that data in law enforcement agencies shall be available in the public interest, but on the other hand there was discretion power the same agency could have decided  to keep it from the public.

The bill was killed.  One major reason why,  Mr. Finnegan was there and able in plain language to let the public know through "The Editor's Notebook", the name of his column, what was happening.  He did this hundreds of times using the pen and paper.

In 2009, I was given the John R. Finnegan Award for my efforts over the years on information policy issues at the Legislature.  I was surprised at getting the award, but as I stated in a column in the Pioneer Press :

"I will get an award named after John Finnegan.  As I reflect on his legacy of open government and an informed public, goals that I, too, have aspired to, I'm honored."

Thank you, Mr. Finnegan.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What does privacy mean, then and now?

Since I have been doing this "gig" of involvement with privacy and open government issues I have tried to take each issue or situation, one at a time, and try to balance those two interests.  Sometimes I succeed, others I do not.

But I have noticed over the past few years I am more on the open government side than the privacy side when it comes to government.  This was illustrated to me just today as I was finally "purging" hundreds of pages of legislative "stuff".

I ran across a proposal by Rep. Carruthers, now a judge in Hennepin County.  In 1992, he proposed legislation that would open up the conviction records to the public held by the BCA.  The BCA was the sole central repository for conviction records for the State of Minnesota.  It was classified as private because of impact of a central database could have on people's lives.  This issue was explored in the FBI v Reporters Committee, Supreme Court case in 1989.

I was ready for the proposal and worked real hard against it.  One of my big points was that the State of Minnesota would be putting out 270,000 names of people in public and could have a privacy impact on them. What came out of the session that year was the famous compromise of "computers" to be set up for the public to view public conviction data at the BCA HQ in St Paul.

Well time went on until the last couple of years of Sen Neuville's tenure.  There was discussion by the BCA to put conviction data on the Internet and charge for it.  When I heard about this I had some concerns, but those concerns were being driven by the open government side of me.

Why should the State be charging the public to view data that the public at this time was now paying private companies for who more than likely got it from the BCA.  Cannot remember specifically, how I hooked up with Sen. Neuville, now Judge, on this one, but we worked together to produce language along with others in Senate File 2 that allowed the public via the BCA website through Internet to view public convictions, to charge a fee, but the fee would sunset in 2005.

In 2005, Sen. Neuville and I were ready to make sure that the sunset remained therefore allowing the public to view the data for free as it continues to this day.

I still battle with the balance of privacy vs. right to know in the public venue, but I am more apt to be on the public data side for accountability and transparency because I have seen too much mischief being done in with things being secret.

With government in Minnesota, as Don Gemberling stated, "Legal privacy in the public sector in Minnesota depends almost entirely on how data about you is classified by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Chapter 13 of Minnesota Statutes."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are those cameras and who's watching on McKnight Road?

Have you ever looked on the stop and go lights and see all the attachments they have on them.  Some look like over sized light bulbs.  You may also see a small round item with clear plastic on the bottom of it.  More than likely this is a surveillance camera.

On September 6, 2012, I was on the corner of Lower Afton & McKnight Road.  I noticed on all four stop & go lights there were long tubes like cameras or something similar such as that attached to the overhangs over the street.  There was one on each overhang facing oncoming traffic.  So for example, if you were heading south on McKnight, the overhang would have the equipment facing you coming from the north on the south side of the intersection.  The local governments that intersect or could be responsible at that location are St Paul, Maplewood, and Ramsey County.

With license plate readers in the news and my own interest on privacy matters in regards to surveillance I decided to do a data practices request of those local government law enforcement agencies to find out what they may be.

" I wish to inspect and review all government data related to the use of those cameras-equipment or what ever kind of instruments it is on the corners/intersection of McKnight & Lower Afton Road."

The responses were as follows:

"SPPD does not have cameras or other instruments at Lower Afton and McKnight.  You may want to check with traffic control agencies like MN DOT."

"The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office does not have any equipment as described deployed, or any activities involving such, located at the intersection of Lower Afton & McKnight Road. From your description of the equipment I would make inquiries with agencies involved with traffic control. Since McKnight Road is the borderline of the cities of Saint Paul and Maplewood, and McKnight is a County Road, your inquiry could possibly include the Ramsey County Public Works Department, City of Maplewood Public Works, City of Saint Paul Public Works, or Minnesota Department of Transportation. If the equipment is actually deployed by law enforcement you may want to make inquiries with the Police Departments of the cities of Saint Paul and Maplewood."

"Maplewood has nothing to do with the devices you mentioned.  Our public works director does not think they are cameras but vehicle detection devices to trip the semaphores.  You can contact Ramsey County Public Works to ask them."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Does Minneapolis Police Department have a policy on personal recording devices?

In my last post I responded to a Star Tribune article how a Minneapolis law enforcement officer Timothy Callahan is involved with a civil suit involving possible withholding of evidence.  The post laid out several questions about the usage of officers using personal recorders, cell phones, and pen cameras.

From the response and comments I got from the post I decided to ask a question of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), Do you (MPD) have a policy regulating the use of these kind of recording devices by your officers?

The response was yes.  It is Administrative Order AA12-019 issued on August 14, 2012.  The subject of the administrative policy is labeled as "Using Cell Phones/Recording Devices to Capture Evidence".

The order more than likely was promulgated by MPD because of the Callahan situation getting public attention, but also as the document states there are other "few cases" where MPD officers have used their own personal recording devices "to capture evidence".  The memo states that it does not prohibit this kind of behavior, but if MPD officers are going to do it while on duty the administrative order lays out some guidelines and principles.

No matter if an officer records evidence on a personal or "department-issued cell phone or other recording device" the evidential process is the same.  The order continues to say:

"1. The cell phone or other recording device containing evidential photos or recordings shall be property inventoried. The minimum turnaround time for processing is 24 hours, possibly up to a week.

 2. The Crime Lab will process the evidence in the same manner all other phones or recording devices are being handled.  There are no exceptions.  This is to insure the integrity of the Crime Lab's processing methods."

Now the policy is not comprehensive in my view and does not answer a number of questions, but is a stop gap effort until a "Personal Recording Device policy (which) is currently in development and the MPD’s Cell Phone policy is also being revised at this time." is implemented.

I have to give credit to Minneapolis Police Chief Dolan in recognizing there is a problem and doing something immediately in which this order took effect.  But questions can be asked why it took so long to recognize this issue?  Secondly, what are other law enforcement agencies doing on this matter or do they have policies and procedures?  Are the Minnesota Police Chiefs Association along with Sheriff's Association working on a general policy?

With the proliferation of small personal recording devices that record audio and visual happenings it was only a matter of time before an issue like this would hit law enforcement.  If a law enforcement officer "records" inappropriate behavior as they do their official duties with personal devices it should be treated as any other evidence and guided by law and policies.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The cop and the pen camera-withholding evidence?

When I read Randy Furst's Star Tribune article earlier this week, several questions immediately come to mind.  They are as follows:

1.Can police officers "on duty" have personal recording devices for audio and video purposes?  Does the Minneapolis Police Department have a policy on this matter?

2. The officer who had the pen camera for six days before notifying investigators violate law or policy of withholding evidence?

3. If an officer knows there is evidence of a possible crime physical or otherwise, what is the person's duty to report it?

In talking with several members of the public about the article, the consensus was that a member of the public would have not gotten the leeway the officer did.  Is there a double standard?

A well-known privacy policy specialist told me today, "Do not kid yourself, in five years, every police officer will have some kind of recording device on them."  The issue is whether there will be accountability, policy, and transparency as technology speedily moves ahead.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What does Brodkorb, Gauthier, & Minneapolis Cops have in common?

What Michael Brodkorb, Rep. Gauthier, and the Minneapolis Police Department have in common are the following:

1. Are subjects of Minnesota Government Data Practices Act requests.
2. The requests themselves have created or are creating policy discussion with the public, and
3. The public and policymakers discovered activities that raise questions on what government is doing.

The top basic action tool for accountability and transparency of state and local government is for a person to make a data practices request.  The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act is a law which we have given ourselves through the Legislature to make sure that government runs right, is accountable, and there are no shenanigans going on.

When there was public discussion several months ago of a civil suit possibility by Michael Brodkorb, the public and media wanted information.  Out came the data practices request either orally or written by members of the news media and the public to the Minnesota Senate.   The response was sorry the Minnesota Senate is not under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  Many people were surprised by that. This meant that information that was public with the state executive branch among others, and all local political subdivisions were not available to the public.  An example, was the contract between the Minnesota Senate and their lawyer and the amount paid the attorney. The Senate finally released the data, but pursuant to their own wishes, not by law.  Should not the Minnesota Legislature be under the same law that it applies to everyone else?

The Gauthier episode involves a data practices request by a reporter of the Duluth Tribune for public data on an elected public official, Rep. Gauthier.  Knowledge came to the Duluth Tribune that an investigation was on going with Gauthier.  The request was made to the Duluth Police Department and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety(State Patrol)for all public data.  The Duluth authorities and the State Patrol were not forthcoming in giving the public data for a number of reasons highlighted by media reports.  There was "talk" from Duluth law enforcement per "high profile" cases or that the Department of Public Safety believed in a different interpretation of the law therefore no release of public data.  But what the public has gained from this data practices request is insight how law enforcement have different databases or files based on who you are.  Secondly, issues of access to public data.  Finally if you are a "high profile" person you get special treatment. There are a number of policy issues this affair raises for accountability and transparency how law enforcement operates and investigates people.

The Star Tribune did a story two weeks ago on license plate readers primarily focusing on how the Minneapolis Police Department has collected millions of license plate scans.  The reporter did a number of data practices requests, but he also did one on himself.  A great number of people think you use the Data Practices Act to make requests only on public data, far from it.  People can ask for data about themselves which may be public or private.  Government collects lots of data on us for a number of reasons from professional licenses to oversee health care in Minnesota.

The reporter made a request under data practices for the times that the license plate readers saw his car or whatever data they may have had on him in the license scan database.  He got the information and with it the journalist pieced a story to let the public know about this new law enforcement tool and how a database with millions of records on individuals was being collected and for what purposes.  The story ignited public discussion as evident by a follow up story by the same reporter last week. These data practices requests have made for sure legislation on the horizon.

By highlighting these three events I am emphasizing the importance of the principle of "right to know" to get an idea of what your government is doing.  You do not have to be a member of the news media to make a data practices request.

Thousand's of people do requests every year, from the restaurant owner who wants to look at their inspection report, or the person who is denied a job based on an incorrect criminal history.  Some of my recent data requests are finding out, for example, about agencies doing surveillance on people, or agencies not having protocols/policies when it comes to getting private information on individuals.  Some of my requests are showing agencies doing things "right" also.

If you want to learn more about the Data Practices Act and how to make requests check out the following websites or contact me through Twitter or e-mail which is on this blog site.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Underbelly" of school tax levy, the consultant

I was quite interested in a story I read in the Highland Villager about the St Paul School District paying nearly $30,000 to Springsted Incorporated for consultation services on this fall's District tax levy referendum. Springsted describes itself as "a public sector advisor with services spanning every stage of your community’s life cycle."  Or as some members of the public may perceive in this case as a "political consultant."  Should public $$$ go towards consultations on political questions by having a survey/poll done for the St Paul School District?

I decided to seek out information that would help me understand this new phenom I had not seen before.  By searching the "NewsBank" I ran across several mentions of Springsted from consulting with Ramsey County on financing the Arden Hills site to serving as an administrator for a "borrowing pool sponsored by the Minnesota School Boards Association."  The pool by the way in 2010 borrowed to school districts more than $300 million.

There was a mention where the Rochester School District was thinking of hiring Springsted for $20,000 to conduct a survey of Rochester residents similar to St Paul did but chose not to do it and had a "community committee" instead.  This was in 2010.  On the other hand, Springsted was used as consultant on the bond issue with survey and all the trimmings for Forest Lake Area Schools in 2010.

Every company has to make money and provide services in order to survive and be successful, no problem with that. But should public $$$ go to a company to "consult" and survey for a political question that the public votes on?  It does not meet my "smell" test and it may be the case with other members of the public also.

I made a Minnesota Government Data Practices request to the St Paul School District for the survey questions, the contract with Springsted, and the breakdown of the survey.  I also asked for all government data related to communication between Springsted Inc and the Superintendent of Schools on this matter.  I was told,  "There was no communication between the Superintendent and Springsted regarding the survey."

The contract between Springsted Incorporated and the St Paul School District was written by the consultant themselves.  The basic reason for the the services of Springsted as per the Summary of Need in the contract:

"The St Paul Public Schools is conducting an operating referendum in November 2012 and desires consultation and planning assistance from Springsted."

The $29,460 that the District is paying for also includes "post-survey planning consultation."

As I stated in the beginning of this post it was the first time I saw public monies going to consultants to do a survey on a political question.  Public $$$ are used for surveys by public entities for marketing and satisfaction feedback all the time, but should public dollars be used to support or not support a rationale for why elected school board members should put on the ballot a tax levy referendum.

I thought elected officials particularly school board members decide such issues on the basis of their conscience and feedback from the community they represent, not based on a taxpayer funded consultant and survey.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Minnesota cops high-tech vacuum cleaners

In my decades of interaction with law enforcement officials and street officers the one thing they continuously crave for is information.  It is a part of their need to solve crime and to get the bad people that do harm in our community.  I and many people know that law enforcement needs to get "the right information to the right person at the right time."

The challenge is how to do this with accountability and transparency, but also that it does not affect or impact on our civil liberties and privacy in a negative way.

With some aspects of Minnesota law enforcement there is an attitude "just let us do our job" and do not bog us down with rules and laws that are not necessary, "trust us."  On the other hand, there are people in law enforcement who know there is great skepticism and suspicion how law enforcement does its duties by the public.

In Minnesota law enforcement today a major realignment of police information gathering is happening.  A very heavy reliance on public and private databases.  For example, St Paul Police Department has access to the CLEAR databases and Accurint databases among others.  Hennepin County in the past has had access to Coplink and Choicepoint databases.

The issue of how law enforcement use these vast databases, public and private, and their accountability to the public is another issue we will not discuss here today.

But the new technical data gatherer (vacuum cleaner) on the law enforcement block is the Automatic License Plate Recognition(ALPR).  In Minnesota, a number of law enforcement agencies are getting these through a Minnesota Department of Commerce grant program.  Hennepin County and Washington County Sheriffs were recipients of grants to buy ALPR's  among several other agencies.  Minneapolis, St Paul, and Maplewood are among several communities that have had these tech tools for a bit.

So what's the problem?  In general:

a. It is the "vacuuming" of data of every vehicle the plate scanner eye focuses on.  Per a data practices request I just received these cameras can "scan" up to 1800 plates a minute. 

b. It is the retention of law abiding people's whereabouts from 14 days to forever in local, state, and national databases. 

c. It is the straying away for what the ALPR's mission supposedly were: to focus on stolen cars, missing persons, and AMBER alerts. Mission creep has come as per example, a Washington County Sheriffs document which states that "ALPRs may also be used to gather information related to active warrants, homeland security, electronic surveillance, suspect interdiction and stolen property recovery."

d. And lastly, the implementation of this new tool for law enforcement is being done without public discussion and the public generally not knowing how it is being used, the kind of data being collected, and on whom, and how long it is being kept for.

What is the data being collected by these new "sweeper" toys?

Depending on the vendor and product a database can store images, plate #, date, time, and gps data.  What vehicles are in use, where it has been, and where it is going are some of the inferences that can be made from the data collected.  The license plate can tell where a person could be or where the person has been based on who the plate is registered to.  The data collected by the readers can be stored, linked for other applications and uses, or compared to information in other databases.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center suggests several questions to be asked:

Does the ALPR system monitor all motor vehicles and retain license plate identification information on all citizens?

Is information collected by the ALPR system saved? Is it retained? For how what duration?

Does the system include controls over who has access to license plate information?

Are binding laws in place, rather than departmental policies, governing how such information may be used?

These suggested questions are among many that need to be answered and addressed by the Minnesota Legislature and public as Minnesota law enforcement agencies begin to get these "moppers" and keep track of where people go.

NOTE:  I also did a previous post on this subject.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Message from Government----delete the message

As I have stated in a previous post I am doing a number of Data Practices requests with government for research purposes.  Which includes a fair amount of interaction via e-mails.  One paragraph that is quite common in the government responses in the "electronic" message is the following:

"Disclaimer: Information in this message or an attachment may be government data and thereby subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, may be subject to attorney-client or work product privilege, may be confidential, privileged, proprietary, or otherwise protected, and the unauthorized review, copying, retransmission, or other use or disclosure of the information is strictly prohibited.  If you are not the intended recipient of this message, please immediately notify the sender of the transmission error and then promptly delete the message from your computer system."

A message that can scare the hell out of ya!!  Not really.  What is government going to do make sure that I "promptly delete this message" from my laptop?  What they could also say in the disclaimer is the data could be public.

OOOOOPPS!!!!  I just deleted the e-mail I got from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

****Revised from 1st posting with better format for reading purposes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

New Minn Stadium Authority continues "sour taste" in public's mouth

When the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority picked Ted Mondale for the top job of the group many people were surprised.  The public thought would there would be a process similar when the executive director was selected for the Baseball Authority for the building of Target Field.  As I wrote  in a previous post that candidates for such an important position should be granted "on worth, excellence, and caliber through a process that is legitimate, impartial, open, and transparent."

It is clear based by comment by Chairperson of the Authority,  Ms.Kelm-Helgen, Mondale's appointment was done with no clarity and answerability to the public.  In other words, "behind closed doors".

As Chair Kelm-Helgen points as reported in the Star Tribune "she had talked with fellow authority members and other officials and business leaders in recent days about whether to conduct a public search for candidates. But she said the tight project timeline dictated a quick decision. "My biggest concern is to get this project moving and to get it out on time and under budget," she said.  Kelm-Helgen said that Mondale, a former DFL state senator and Metropolitan Council chairman, was a logical choice, and that his name "came up everywhere" in discussions she had involving the position. She said hiring him "made sense" given his experience with the project, his knowledge of its details and his history with the sports commission".

When I read the story, several questions came immediate to mind.  Who did Ms Kelm-Helgen have conversations with in regards to whether or not to have a "public search" for candidates?  Did she have one on one conversations with other members of the Authority?  How did they come to the consensus of no "public search"?  Where is the "public record" that documents the choice of how Mr. Mondale was selected and decision not to do a "want ad" for the head person position?  There isn't any.

The public now knows no other individuals were considered for the position other than Ted Mondale.

Consider the facts as much as the public knows, five Authority members and a hodgepodge "of other officials and business leaders" made a decision to name a person to direct a multi-hundred million dollar public project without the public knowing who had the input.  Also the view of "Damn the torpedoes Full speed ahead'? seemed to permeate and direct the fastrack/greased slide for the selection of the Authority's head..  Who was pushing the "We're not going to look at the risks, we're just going to do it."  Was it the Vikings organization?  Who?

The process of "birth' for the Vikings Stadium bill and the Authority was not pretty as many media reports have reported.  There was at the Legislature and currently now a division of opinion about public financing of the Viking Stadium.  I thought the new Authority members would have the moxie and leadership to understand the "black eye" that the public process took over it.  I was expecting a "public search" for the head position.

Even with the announcement of Ted Mondale I thought the Authority would be clear and explicit how they chose him and why. Our tradition of open government over the past forty years in Minnesota wants and pursues transparency with its public bodies.  This was not the case with the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority in this situation.

The Facilities Authority has its helmsman, there's a burning desire to go ahead, but there needs to an attitude with clear public statements and policy with no obfuscation by Authority members and its head person that the public can be assured that what they are doing is legitimate, impartial, open, and transparent.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Who also applied for Stadium Authority appointments w Rybak?

Today, belatedly from the time of request, the Mayor of Minneapolis released the names of 13 individuals that were considered for his two appointments to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority.  Among the names released were Butt-Williams and McCarthy who were selected. The rest of the people ranged from active public citizens in support of the Vikings and new stadium to a sitting Minneapolis City Council member.

The 13 people "considered" were  Barbara Butts-Williams, Melvin Tennant, Bill  McCarthy,  Diane Hofstede, David Fritze, Jerry Yost, Peggy Lucas, Steve Person,  Michele Foster, G. Michael Schneider, Larry Spooner, Kevin Dooley, and Cory Merrifield.

I made my request on Monday June 11th, pursuant to the Minnesota Data Practices Act for the names of the applicants which are public.  The names should have been given sooner than today, before the announcement of the names.  But sometimes the government wishes to control when the data should be released as they have done in this case.

I spoke with John Stiles, Communication's Director for Mayor RT Rybak.  He indicated to me that the applicant's name came from different sources to the Mayor such as e-mail communication and it took time to gather all the names.  Stiles also stated that there was no communication with the Governor's office in "negotiating" who Dayton picks or who Rybak would pick.  After the Mayor came to his decision several days before the public announcement, they let the Governor know who they chose.

In conversation with Mr. Stiles, he stated that the Mayor considered the process of selection just as much like an appointment to the Metropolitan Airports Commission which Rybak can appoint members to.  No open appointment process for that, therefore none for Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority appointments.  I encouraged him to read my post from two days ago.

I hope he and Mayor Rybak will do that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Do appointees of Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority represent the public?

From the beginning of the introduction of the stadium bill to the upcoming 1st meeting of the new Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (Authority) a lot of the major decisions about it have been under the cloak of secrecy.  That was very evident at the Legislature by the media reports of quotes from legislators saying to avoid a quorum to where conference meetings are open to the public they intentionally made sure quorum was not met.

This same kind of attitude of secrecy seems to have taken root with the naming of the five appointees to the Authority by Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak and Governor Mark Dayton.  Out from the start the leaders Dayton and Rybak should have taken action and moxie for this not to be the case.

The appointments that the public have granted the Governor and Mayor to make are very momentous because of the hundreds of millions of public dollars involved and major decisions to be made in regards to the Stadium.  The public expects Dayton and Rybak to be dutiful and responsible about it.  It should have been the goal of the Governor and Mayor to provide to the public all possible information how they see the appointment process so that the public would know the leaders would be making an informed determination and make the appointments to the Authority with open eyes.  This was not the case.

The Governor and the Mayor did not go through their open appointment processes which both Minneapolis and the State of Minnesota have.  I believe the Governor should have gone through the state process to appoint his selections.  Same with the Mayor.  I have already heard the arguments about the time limit of thirty days to do the appointments. Or it was not so stated in the stadium law  From my point of view not a legitimate excuse.  This is where leadership and determination comes in.

The leaders who had the responsibility to select these exceptional and foremost appointments could have publicly stated their standards, goals, and what is guiding them in doing these appointments.  Did Governor Dayton and Mayor Rybak do this?  I do not think so.  Was their an open and transparent process where people from the public could apply? No.

What it came down to is pure and simple, a decision made by the Governor and Mayor in secrecy without the public knowing about others who may have applied formally or informally, and whether or not these five people were the best people to represent the public interests at the Authority table.

I was appalled at the legislative process in which the bill went through and how very little or no attention was placed on accountability and transparency for the public.  This is the same with the appointment process

The government on the local and state level which I have participated in as a citizen for over forty years generally makes important civic appointments, on worth, excellence, and caliber through a process that is legitimate, impartial, open, and transparent.  Was that the case with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority appointments?


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Minnesota law enforcement befuddled and bewildered by laws?

What I read in the Star Tribune today about law enforcement's behavior and antics of finding "a way around the law" is nothing new.  I have seen, experienced, and observed this kind of behavior for decades by law enforcement.  As some of the readers of this post may know I have been in the forefront of privacy and public records laws for a very long time.

Some examples in my view of law enforcement behavioral perplexities:

In my numerous requests of public data from Minnesota law enforcement agencies I am always at one time or another in "argument" with cops over what is public or not.  Even though the law enforcement official knows it's public I will not be given it because of their interpretation of law or because of "their" reason which they will not tell me.

Another experience was in the late 1980's when I worked on our state laws to make accountable how law enforcement use wiretap and electronic communication laws to get access to our e-mails and phone conversations.  When the 1989 wiretap law was passed by the Minnesota Legislature it set better protection for our electronic communications and accountability than most states and the federal government.

But lo and behold, law enforcement found a loophole to be able to get access to people's communication over the phone.  Intent of law was to give privacy of communication and could only be intercepted with a search warrant   Some of us may remember the cordless phone. It was basically a hand held phone which came off the base station of the phone which also be hood on the wall.

Some law enforcement people started to intercept the frequency from the base to the hand held phone.  Some cops felt they did not need a search warrant for interception. I found out about this and worked with legislators on legislation to plug the hole.  "Was this a "way around the law"?  I think it was.

Even in the last few years through today a view within law enforcement continues as to how to "guardedly" skim around the law without actually breaking it. Whether it be a determination done by the Commissioner of Public Safety which made data secret at MNJAC (Fusion Center) that's been public for decades.  This action has raised some scrutiny and questions by legislators and public.

Or discussions of how to possibly set up a new data base to take the place of GangNet with maybe not going to the Legislature for direction and guidance.  An end around?  Another example, is how law enforcement interprets the conceal and carry law.  Some gun rights people have said to me that people are denied permits contrary to law.  What usually happens though, individual denied by the Sheriff, but win on appeal.

So what causes this behavior by law enforcement? This is my general take:

Law enforcement takes their job very seriously to protect people from harm and to promote public safety. Anyone who questions what they do and how they do it can be perceived as a block to their mission. Particularly if it is from a different angle and approach from the cops perspective.

A general attitude of you "can trust us" we're the cops, we know what we are doing.

A very strong point of view of suspicion and skepticism of privacy and open records laws.  The laws make cops jobs harder to do.

So what is the future in Minnesota of these attitudes by law enforcement?

First, it is important to say the attitude of how to "get around the law" is not a majority opinion or attitude of many of the Sheriff's and Police Chiefs.

What the majority of police leadership want in this state is clarity of law.  Does law enforcement use unintelligibly of law to their advantage, yes they do.  There may be a number of law enforcement officials who want the "unintelligibly".

What the public demands is accountability, transparency, and honesty, not obfuscation by law enforcement.  How the institutions of law enforcement do their duties and responsibilities and in following the laws matter to all of us. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What's Rich doing with Legislature not in session?

This summer I am doing a fair amount of research on issues that I care about.  A tool I use is the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  This is a state law of many purposes, one which is guaranteeing a right of the public to gain access, inspect, and copy public data.

Two of several research endeavors I have set sail on are as follows:

How are public monies awarded to private contractors being specifically spent?

How are law enforcement agencies complying with current laws in regards to gathering data on people?

I am inquiring among local and state agencies.  The response to my requests can be just as different as the agencies are.  Basically, the request is accepted with the appropriate people, but that's when the difference begins.

This week I had a request end up in the City Attorney's office which I believe may be a stall tactic.  Nothing new, sometimes simple requests that I know are public and very easy to comply with are diverted for political reasons or simply they do not want the public to know.  It can also be the agency has a policy that says every data practices request must be reviewed by a lawyer.

Today I was told by another agency I have to write out a specific request with my name for the material I want to view next week.  I said there was no need for that because my request is very simple, to see a specific contract between the government entity and the private party and their "request for proposal".  There can be no misunderstanding what I want to review.  I also stated the law calls for not having to identify myself for requests on public data.

I have had experiences when government personnel has taken it upon themselves to inform subjects(companies and individuals)of my data practices requests and that I am reviewing their public files.  It can put you in a awkward situation.

There will be barriers and stall tactics by some government agencies, but the majority not so.  Having some knowledge of data practices helps because even some of the people who you give your request to sometimes do not even know the basics of the law.

I encourage people to become more familiar with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  It is a useful and powerful tool to find out what government is doing, but also to make change in government.

As was stated in an article in City Pages, many years ago, "Information is power. Information is key. Information is access." It's Neumeister's anthem.

For more information on the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act you can go to either of these web sites.   IPAD | Information Policy Analysis Division State of Minnesota  Minnesota Coalition on Government Information: MNCOGI

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"There's something on everybody."

Jack, there's something on everybody. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.
~ Willie Stark
With the closing for filing of national, state, and local offices yesterday a new season begins.  A season which is the "underbelly" of the campaigns, the "opposition research", the "dirt" gathering, or the mustering the facts.  Through the Internet or other sources individuals will be scattering and scurrilously looking for information on the candidates.

As a recent headline stated on the NPR web site:

"Opposition political researchers are dedicated to exhuming skeletons in candidates' closets, from past votes to past marriages. They hope to both protect their clients, and to damage their opponents. And the fruits of that labor often winds up in the headlines."

I have seen in the past where "skeletons" and "dirt" can appear on candidates for statewide offices, congressional races, and city and county in the major newspapers or picked up by a major TV station.  For the legislative races it can be done by the small town or community newspaper.  Another way I have seen it with legislative races is the effective rumor mill which goes something like this.  Did you know that____did____.

Many times the "dirt" is dug up by the opposition research and given to the media.  The whole mentality of opposition research could have been a factor why many new faces at the Legislature decided not to run this year.

I would like to suggest something "Refreshingly Honest" as the Iron Ranger would say.
The suggestion is based on fair information principles.  How about this as a rule-

"Any campaign who finds information of the other candidate or knows of others who do the same will contact the opposition and share the data with them.  It will give an opportunity for the candidate to correct or amend the record."

"Refreshingly Honest"

More than likely though my idea will not be given ANY consideration by any campaign.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Who can apply for Minnesota "Bonds" Sweepstakes?

The City of St Paul wants dearly to get $27 million dollars of the $50 million bond "sweepstakes" money for the Saint's stadium as their media blitz has outlined. I decided to call the Commissioner's Office of Minnesota Department Employment and Economic Development.(DEED)  I wanted to know how I could apply with a "public" partner to get some of the bonding money also.

I was told by the polite person who answered at the Commissioner's office, I would have to talk with him, but he's "not in now."  I then asked if there was any criteria or detail laying out the process and how the proposals would be judged and awarded and by whom.  She then told me to hang on the phone for a bit.  She got back to me and stated staff were meeting this week to develop criteria and "process".

I tell you this scenario to illustrate the uniqueness of how $50 million of public bonding money is set to be spent in a competitive process.  First class cities like St Paul can put in a proposal, or counties can such what Hennepin County may do for light rail development.  The proposals are limitless for ideas for use of public monies to build public infrastructure and for eligible projects.

The language of the bill is such that a small city or town could apply for $250.000 to help them and their community with infrastructure and projects.  But I worry big government entities such as cities of the first class and 7 County Metro Area will come into the process and suck up the money dry.

The Legislature and Governor Dayton decided on this extraordinary process to dole out millions of public monies.

Usually the bonding bill is one of the most political of all bills at the Minnesota Legislature.  The Governor has his priority, the Senate and House of Representatives theirs.  It takes more than a simple majority for a bonding bill to pass.  The parties do a lot of horse trading, log rolling, and other kinds of action to crank out a bill that serves the interest of Minnesotans.

The roll out of the $50 million to the public on infrastructure and eligible projects is proceeding fast, many questions need asking with answers.  Just a few I have thought of.  Will the criteria and process such be such that it is a foregone conclusion who will be the winners or losers?  Has there been already behind the scenes agreement that certain projects will get funded?  Do small government entities have a chance for small cost projects?  

To the credit of Governor and Legislature the law is designed to give out the public monies in an open competitive process, not the horse trading way which is done many times in secret at the Legislature.

How open, competitive, or how broad or narrow as to who can apply and get bonding dollars depends on what the the Commissioner of Deed does in criteria, guidelines, standards, and process as to who makes the decisions and how they are made.

Below is the Section 33 of the 2012 Bonding law, Chapter 293 that lays out the process for rolling out the bonds.

    Subdivision 1. Creation of account. A business development through capital
projects account is created in the bond proceeds fund. Money in the account may only be
used for capital costs for eligible projects and public infrastructure.
    Subd. 2. Definitions. For purposes of this section:
(1) "local governmental unit" means a county, city, town, special district, public
higher education institution, or other political subdivision or public corporation;
(2) "governing body" means the city council, board of county commissioners, town
board of supervisors, board of trustees, board of regents, or other body charged with
governing a political subdivision of the state;
(3) "public infrastructure" means publicly owned physical infrastructure in this state,
including, but not limited to, wastewater collection and treatment systems, drinking water
systems, storm sewers, utility extensions, telecommunications infrastructure, streets,
roads, bridges, and parking ramps; and
(4) "eligible project" means any project for which general obligation bonds of
the state may be issued. Eligible projects must be capital projects for acquisition or
improvement of publicly owned fixed assets having a useful life of at least ten years.
    Subd. 3. Grant program established. The commissioner shall make competitive
grants to local governmental units for eligible projects and public infrastructure required
to support an eligible project, which may include: predesign, design, acquisition of land or
buildings, construction, furnishing, and equipping a new or renovated building. The local
government unit may employ or contract with persons, firms, or corporations to perform
one or more or all of the functions of architect, engineer, or construction manager with
respect to all or any part of an eligible project and related public infrastructure. The local
government unit may deliver the eligible project and related public infrastructure through
either a design-build or construction manager at-risk method. To the extent practicable
and at the discretion of the local government unit, the local government unit may have
rights and exercise powers with respect to the acquisition, construction, use, and operation
of an eligible project, as are granted under section 473.756. No consent or approval of
another political subdivision is required for the effectiveness or the exercise by a local
government unit of the rights or powers.
    Subd. 4. Application. (a) A local governmental unit must apply to the commissioner
for a grant under this section. At a minimum, a local governmental unit must include the
following information in its application:
(1) a resolution of its governing body certifying that the money required to be
supplied by the local governmental unit to complete the project is available and committed;
(2) a detailed estimate, along with necessary supporting evidence, of the total costs
of the eligible project;
(3) an assessment of the potential or likely use of the site for innovative business
activities after completion of the eligible project;
(4) a timeline indicating the major milestones for the eligible project, including
anticipated completion dates;
(5) an estimate of the operating costs for the project for ten years following
completion; and
(6) any additional information or material the commissioner prescribes.
(b) The determination of whether to make a grant under subdivision 3 is within the
discretion of the commissioner, subject to this section.
    Subd. 5. Match. An amount granted under this program must be matched with at
least an equal amount from nonstate sources. Any contribution to a project from nonstate
sources made before a grant award is made under this section shall count towards the
match requirement.
    Subd. 6. Priorities. (a) If applications for grants exceed the available appropriation,
grants must be made for projects that, in the commissioner's judgment, provide the
highest return in public benefits for the public costs incurred. In making this judgment,
the commissioner shall evaluate and prioritize eligible projects on the following
(1) creation of new jobs, retention of existing jobs, or improvements in the quality of
existing jobs as measured by the wages, skills, or education associated with those jobs;
(2) improvement in the quality of existing jobs, based on increases in wages or
improvements in the job duties, training, or education associated with those jobs;
(3) increase in the local tax base, based on demonstrated measurable outcomes;
(4) demonstration that investment of public dollars in the project will induce private
(5) whether the project provides necessary repair or replacement of existing capital
(6) whether the project reduces operating expenses of or increases revenue from
existing capital asset, thereby offsetting at least a portion of project costs;
(7) whether the project provides health or safety benefits;
(8) the number of residents served by or who will benefit from the project;
(9) demonstration of local support;
(10) the capacity of the project to attract revenue from out of state; and
(11) objective cost benefit analysis and return on investment.
(b) The factors in paragraph (a) are not listed in a rank order of priority; rather, the
commissioner may weigh each factor, depending upon the facts and circumstances, as the
commissioner considers appropriate. In prioritizing projects, the commissioner shall make
an appropriate balance between the metropolitan area and greater Minnesota.
    Subd. 7. Sunset. This section expires June 30, 2016.

Monday, May 14, 2012

St Paul School Board nixes public hearing? Who needs public input

This coming school year budget at St Paul Public Schools will be minus a public hearing where "all" the people can comment on how their public monies are being spent on.  Per report in the St Paul Pioneer Press , the new style or tactic is to limit input or discussion to specific groups.  To do it in a "controlled" fashion.

The cardinal purpose of a public hearing is to obtain public testimony or comment.  The St Paul School Board gives the impression after reading the story they do not want to "hear" citizens with their comments and ideas on a half a Billion $$$ budget plus.

Public hearings on budgets are very important.  For example, many times at the Legislature and on the local level I have made comments on the budget several weeks before the final decision on budget.

St Paul City Council usually has a public hearing on their budget about 5 weeks before their final decision.  One year I made comments on the funding and budget of the St Paul Library.  I shared with the policymakers the need to spend more $$$ on binding of books and the St Paul Collection. It gave an opportunity for the Council members to check into what I said.  Lo and behold extra money was found for binding.

The St Paul School Board and District plans to "stifle" the public from the traditional public hearing is just a continuing part of their character over the past several years to control information and deny the public access to accountability and transparency.  I did a previous post on a incident the School District did three months ago.  About two years ago, the School District did not want to give out "public" data on it's budget and came up with a balderdash reason why it is not public.  Many people who work in public access issues strongly disagreed with that decision and rationale.

The public budget hearing is a chance to communicate with the School Board and the District management in a clear, open and transparent way.  Not in a controlled and stifling fashion as it seems a majority of  St Paul School Board members want.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Washington DC: The City of "Tags"

It is great to be in Washington DC again where I am instructing young people about US Government and the role they can play here and at home in their community.  The Close Up Foundation which I have been a part of for forty years had and still continues to have a great impact on me.

As a high school student, I remember being here in the days of the arguments of Vietnam War funding and the impondment of funds by the Nixon Administration.  There was also an ability to go easily into the US Capitol to the Senate Reception area to visit with your Senator.  It would be like just going to the Minnesota House of Representatives reception area at the Capitol, but US Capitol being more ornate.

Times have changed.  Young people though are still excited to visit their Congresspersons and Senators as I will be going to the "Hill" with them.

But one thing I have noticed almost everyone wears a tag in Washington, with their name on it.  It must be "change of the times."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Artful and Foxy Words of Fine Print

As the Minnesota Legislature races towards the end be aware of that A-222 amendment which may have a short sentence with several words and placed on a conference committee bill or a so called must pass bill for the "sake of the state."

As the public has learned from such behavior in the past it can be hard to correct once the public finds out.  Just review the various media reports after last years shutdown.  Many stories of legislative surprises, revealing switches of money, and just out right "magical" disappearing of legislative language.

In the past, I have seen and discover such amendments,  There are many I ignore, some I tell others about, or I take action.  Several years ago, the Chair of the House Commerce Committee adopted a short sentence as an amendment, a provision which would have turned our state's strong medical privacy laws into Swiss cheese.  I spoke with him.  Did not see an issue.  I spoke with other legislators, but also with other privacy advocates.  The provision was taken out.

Another way of how things slip in is the "mumbo jumbo" of referring to Chapter 628 of the 5th subdivision, paragraph (a) with a few words added.  Many times law is made by amending current law.  But many people including legislators sometimes do not understand what an amendment may do.  The question may not be asked what the change may do to current law.

A case in point.  I spoke with a legislator this week about an amendment to our medical records statute.  She told me what the purpose of it was.  I said that was incorrect because it is already in current law.  She read the current law and decided to do language appropriately with what she and others wanted.

The Omnibus tax bill, the Health and Human Services bill, Legacy bill, among others including the "People's Stadium" bill is edging slowly its way towards the finish line.

We the public need to Stop, Look, and Act if we see sly, crafty, and smooth language in the bills we do not understand. So do the elected legislators we put into office.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Minnesota Legislative Auditor at it again

Last night I saw a report on KSTP News which showed Legislative Auditor James Nobles stating that Commissioner Jessen of the Department of Human Services was not being forthcoming in providing documents that he has asked for.  Currently, the Legislative Auditor along with other government enities are investigating aspects of the $4 billion Medicaid affair.

Many people in Minnesota may not know about this, but the Legislative Auditor was cited recently in a major study.  The study was part of an effort by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity to look at how all 50 states deal with accountability and transparency to prevent "funny things" such as corruption, breaking of laws, and dishonesty from happening in government.

Minnesota got a D+ in its report card.

There were two "bright" spots that more than likely kept Minnesota from getting an F.   The Legislative Auditor and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

In the more detail report, it highlights the weaknesses of Minnesota laws and institutions.

In the report it states:

"One of the bright spots in the state is the Office of the Legislative Auditor.  The Office is widely seen as non-partisan, aggressive, and even-handed in its approach to auditing and evaluating state agencies and programs.  In 1973, a private study group recommended creation of an office in the legislative branch comparable to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan governmental “watchdog” at the national level."

I applaud the Legislative Auditor for calling out publicly when higher ups in government are not doing their due diligence in producing documents when they are asked for.

By the way I did a post last year to where the Legislative Auditor may not have enough money to do its "full" job in a keen and constant fashion this current biennium.  Is that still true? 

Is the Legislative Auditor's nose still cut to smell government wrong?