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.