MNCOGI Announces Recipients of the 2018 John R. Finnegan FOI Award

The awards will be presented at MNCOGI’s annual Freedom of Information Day event Friday, March 16 from noon to 1 pm, at Minneapolis Central Library’s Pohlad Hall, 300 Nicollet Mall. All are welcome.

Live Stream of Ceremony by The Uptake

Star Tribune Reporter Chris Serres To Receive John R. Finnegan FOI Award

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) honors Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres with the 2018 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information (FOI) Award for his 5-part investigative series, Left to Suffer, about significant abuse of senior home residents. Through meticulous research, Serres was able to show that elder abuse victims and their families effectively were denied access to government files that should have been public. He filed numerous data requests for audit reports, combed through thousands of those state records, and his work detailed criminal abuse in senior care facilities. The publication of his work in November 2017 led the Governor Dayton and AARP, in conjunction with other organizations serving Minnesota seniors, to convene a Consumer Workgroup on the Health and Safety of Minnesota Seniors. The Workgroup’s report, issued in January 2018, outlined 4 key actions that legislators and regulators can take in response to Serres’ investigation.  

Attorney Paul Hannah To Receive Finnegan FOI Career Achievement Award

MNCOGI awards The John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Career Achievement Award to Paul Hannah. Soon after John R. Finnegan, Sr. founded the Minnesota Joint Media Committee in the 1970s, Hannah joined forces with him to advocate for openness in government including cameras in the court. For almost two decades, The Best Lawyers in America honored Hannah by listing him in its “First Amendment Law” area. He represented several local media companies in dozens of legal efforts to  preserve access and accountability. In June 2010, Hannah freely shared his media law expertise at MNCOGI’s “Fair Use and Social Media: A Primer.”  According to MNCOGI Chair Gary Hill, “Paul’s consistent and effective legal fights for the public’s right to know make him a recipient most worthy of the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.”

Citizen Lobbyist Van Pelt and Star Tribune Editor & Reporter Shiffer will discuss “Seeking Sunshine In a Secretive Health Care System” at Finnegan FOI Awards

The keynote presentation will be a question and answer session between citizen lobbyist Sheila Van Pelt and James Shiffer, Star Tribune Editor and Reporter whose June 2017 profile of Van Pelt showed how the lack of information surrounding her mother’s stroke in a senior care facility led Van Pelt to discover how difficult it is to receive records from regulators and senior care facilities. After familiarizing herself with the Minnesota Data Practices Act and the legislative process, Van Pelt has used her immersion in data practices law to initiate informed conversations with legislators and now considers herself a citizen lobbyist.


Democratic government is possible only if individuals have access to the government information they need in order to hold their government accountable.

Government at all levels has a responsibility to promote public participation by support of open access to all public government information.

Government information, regardless of physical form, must always, to the greatest extent possible, be available to the public. Government information is broadly defined to include all data held by the government including databases, information accumulated from raw data, documents, reports, maps and other publications, and all forms of correspondence.

Creation and preservation of government information that documents governmental operations are fundamental parts of assuring government accountability.

Research and public education about access to and availability of government information are essential to preserve and improve public access.


To assure the vitality of these principles, MNCOGI carries out or encourages the following activities.

MNCOGI promotes public knowledge of laws and principles regarding open access to government information by:

  • Maintaining and updating a website with links to resources and directions about how to use Minnesota’s law;
  • Hosting a blog for discussion of issues about access to government information; and,
  • Operating a speaker’s bureau to provide public presentations on access to government information.

MNCOGI informs individuals and organizations concerned about open access to government information by

  • Sponsoring “COGI-tations,” a series of presentations by subject matter experts;
  • Promoting and supporting research on these topics; and,
  • Linking with parallel efforts at the federal level that support Minnesota activities.

MNCOGI collaborates with other organizations to enhance participation in the affairs of government, particularly with regard to public access to government information, by

  • Building a coalition of organizations and individuals that promote MNCOGI principles;
  • Critiquing legislation, and,
  • Evaluating government’s compliance with state law and principles of open access.

MNCOGI recognizes a commitment to openness in government and the public right to know through the awarding of the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award on FOI Day, March 16.

MNCOGI seeks grants and conducts other fundraising to increase the visibility of information access issues in the Minnesota community as a whole and in individual communities.


American Library Association – 2005 Eileen Cooke State and Local Madison Award