MNCOGI Signs Statement on Government Coronavirus Emergency Transparency and Public Access

Posted by: on Mar 22, 2020 | No Comments

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information has joined over 130 organizations in signing the below statement, affirming the importance of government transparency during the coronavirus pandemic.

As state, tribal and local governments across the United States take measures to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, executive orders and legislative proposals are calling for the suspension of normal operating procedures including, at times, compliance with open-meeting and public-records laws. We strongly urge government branches and agencies to recommit to, and not retrench from, their duty to include the public in the policy-making process, including policies relating to COVID-19 as well as the routine ongoing functions of governance.


Government bodies should not opportunistically take advantage of the public’s inability to attend large gatherings to make critical decisions affecting the public’s interest if those decisions can reasonably be postponed. Just as citizens are being asked to defer nonessential travel and errands, so should government agencies defer noncritical policy-making decisions until full and meaningful public involvement can be guaranteed. Where postponement is not realistic, every available measure should be taken to (1) notify the public of meetings of government bodies and how to participate in those meetings remotely, (2) use widely available technologies to maximize real-time public engagement, and (3) preserve a viewable record of proceedings that is promptly made accessible online.


We understand that government agencies will struggle with staffing and time constraints during this period of exigency, as employees transition into working from home, attend to personal and family health needs, and become focused on crisis-response duties. Some agencies undoubtedly will have difficulty meeting their legal obligations to process requests for public records promptly and thoroughly. This predictable difficulty counsels strongly in favor of affirmatively disclosing as much as is legally permissible without waiting to receive a request for records. Members of the press and public often resort to freedom-of-information requests when decisions are made secretively. It should not be necessary to reconstruct critical decisions about public health and safety by piecing together email trails. The fact that a government decision involves public health and safety is a reason for more, not less, transparency.

As government employees begin transacting more public business off-premises on personal devices, it is important that they faithfully observe records-retention protocols so that messages about core governmental functions are retrievable and reviewable just as on-premises correspondence is. All official-business communications — regardless of where it occurs, and whose devices and accounts are used — should take place over channels that allow for messages to be easily archived, produced and read. When possible, all electronic communications and information sharing should be transacted through official email accounts and government-issued communication devices.

At all times, but most especially during times of national crisis, trust and credibility are the government’s most precious assets. As people are asked to make increasing sacrifices in their daily lives for the greater good of public health, the legitimacy of government decision-making requires a renewed commitment to transparency. Open government is not “bureaucratic red tape.” We encourage the custodians of information at all levels of government to take this opportunity to leverage technology to make governance more inclusive and more credible, not to suspend compliance with core accountability imperatives in the name of expediency.

This statement, and a list of all 132 signing organizations, is available for download as a PDF.

Cameras in courts: A judge approves

Posted by: on Dec 1, 2015 | No Comments

Below is an email received by David Unze of the St. Cloud Times from Judge Michael Jesse, who presided at a hearing Nov. 25 in Benton County. He sent it to Mr. Unze within 45 minutes or so of the hearing ending.

“Hello Dave – just wanted to let you know from my perspective, the cameras in the courtroom experience this afternoon went very smoothly and unobtrusively. I appreciate all of your effort to make sure it would happen this way. From what I can tell, the attorneys were also very satisfied with everything. Defense counsel initially wanted the camera placement to be back in the audience where the public generally sits, but I told them I authorized camera presence in the jury box and counsel said they understood.

“Please share this with whomever you wish. I have no hesitation in repeating this experience again.

“Thank you for your help.”

Cameras in the courts pilot project expands

Posted by: on Nov 30, 2015 | No Comments

A pilot project allowing cameras in some criminal court hearings has begun in Minnesota district courts.

The project that began Nov. 10 is limited to hearings after a defendant is convicted in certain types of cases. Cameras aren’t allowed when a jury is present, and they’re excluded from juvenile proceedings or those involving domestic violence or sex crimes. They also aren’t allowed in specialized courts for drug, mental health, veteran and DWI cases.

The project expands a similar one that allowed cameras at civil case hearings.

The Minnesota Supreme Court decided in August to allow expanded access of media camera and audio recordings of criminal proceedings as part of a pilot project. Formerly, all parties to a case had to consent before recordings were allowed, leading to few cases where cameras were permitted.

Under the expanded pilot program, victims testifying as part of sentencing or other post-verdict proceedings must give consent to be recorded.

News organizations and the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information have tried for years to get cameras and other devices into courtrooms by loosening a 1974 prohibition. Supreme Court justices said in their order that they were trying to address concerns of intrusive or prejudicial coverage while bringing about confidence in the judicial system’s fairness.

After the two-year pilot allowed cameras in certain civil proceedings, The Minnesota Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on General Rules of Practice reported, among its conclusions:

“The committee is not aware of any problems or complaints caused by the use of cameras or audio recording equipment in court proceedings during the pilot period.

“Coverage of the proceedings has not, to the committee’s knowledge, generated any known prejudice to any of the parties.”

MNCOGI believes that further opening Minnesota courts to audio and video coverage will foster community understanding and present citizens with a positive experience of what goes on in their courtrooms.

MNCOGI will post on its website links to news reports that include camera coverage of court proceedings.

These are some of the reports:

Cameras Flick On In Minnesota’s Criminal Courtrooms

McKinney sentenced in Wylie murder

Craigslist Swindler Who Cost Investors $330K Sentenced To Prison

Eden Prairie Woman Found Guilty Of Embezzling $1.3M

Man Gets 12 Years In Death Of Former Roommate

Cameras make debut in Duluth courtroom

Rosemount Woman Gets 15 Years For Aiding Anarae Schunk’s Death

Emotional Outbursts Follow Alexandria Woman’s Murder Sentencing

Rejection by redaction: Seven months and waiting

Posted by: on Jan 9, 2014 | No Comments

From James Eli Shiffer, MNCOGI board member and the Star Tribune’s watchdog and data editor

When public officials take forever to fulfill records requests, one of the most common excuses is that they need to redact information that’s not public. Under Minnesota law, they can’t charge for the time spent redacting, but the process can result in long delays in handing over records that are undeniably public. Star Tribune staff writer Eric Roper told the story of how he is still waiting for public records that he requested from the city of Minneapolis seven months ago.  The city’s explanation? The time has been spent redacting documents that fill a “banker’s box.”

Fair Use and Social Media: A Primer

Posted by: on Jun 23, 2010 | No Comments

Presenter: Paul Hannah
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
4:30 – 6:00 pm
Women Venture Meeting Room
2324 University Ave West, St. Paul (just East of Raymond)
A COGI-tations Event

Confused about how and when Fair Use applies to entries on Facebook, Twitter and blogs? Paul Hannah, media lawyer, provides pointers on Copyright law for journalists, concerned citizens, bloggers and all concerned about Fair Use in online expressions. As a well-known Twin Cities media attorney, Mr. Hannah knows the law and can clarify it for those who may be intimidated, confused or overwhelmed by it.

This event is free and open to the public. Free parking is available.

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.

Minnesota’s data practices law – a look to the future

Posted by: on Oct 12, 2009 | No Comments

COGI-tations: A program of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 – Event Photos
4:30 – 6:00 p.m.
Midtown Commons, 2324 University Ave West, St. Paul (just East of Raymond)
Women Venture meeting room
Free and convenient parking West of the Midtown Commons complex.

An open discussion of changing needs, many the result of technology. A chance to review the principles that undergird the state’s unique data practices law. Come prepared to share issues, experience, a vision of future challenges and practical suggestions for needed change.

Resource people, on hand to provide context and answer questions, include John R. Finnegan, Sr, Jane Kirtley, Kirsten Clark, Don Gemberling
& other members of the MnCOGI Board.

Learn more:

The Public’s Business: More People Are Knocking at the Door – Let Them In, by Jane Kirtley, 3/15/2009*.

Our Open-Government Laws Need to be Stronger and Clearer, by Jane Kirtley, 6/5/2009*.

* Articles posted with permission of the author, Jane Kirtley, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

COGI-tations are public forums sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.All COGI-tations are free and open to the public.

The debut of TAP MN

Posted by: on Mar 28, 2009 | No Comments

Eagle-eyed Todd Kruse brings this to our attention. The Minnesota Management & Budget Office launched its long-awaited web site to track state spending: the Transparency and Accountability Project for Minnesota (TAP MN) . TAP MN can also be used to track Minnesota’s use of federal stimulus dollars. State agencies and the public can request spending reports by agency, fund, category or vendor. Look for updates often. It will be interesting to compare this to the federal version of this database, www.usaspending.gov/.

Helen Burke, MNCOGI Chair

Peter S. Popovich Award

Posted by: on Jun 29, 2008 | No Comments

We want to say congrats to the Peter S. Popovich Award winners this year – especially to our own Robbie LaFleur.

Mary Flister, who has been recording Maplewood city meetings and making them available to the community, despite rebukes from to stop, and Robbie LaFleur, director of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, who has been an unyielding advocate of information accessibility for the general public, both received the Peter S. Popovich Award.

Peter S. Popovich Award is awarded by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists.

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database?

Posted by: on May 17, 2008 | No Comments

Todd Kruse’s crusade to have the sun shine in on Minnesota state government spending got some ink in a 5/16 Star Tribune editorial, “A blogger’s quest: Where’s the database?” Kruse seeks to have the Minnesota Department of Administration fully implement last year’s State Government and Omnibus Act. To comply with the 2007 Act, the state needs to create a database to track spending on contracts and grants.

Kruse is not alone in his quest. The National Taxpayer’s Union is one of several groups tracking similar developments on the state level on its site, www.showmethespending.com. Good for Todd Kruse and the National Taxpayer’s Union for their diligence in pursuing transparency in government.

What’s the holdup for Minnesota’s database? It’s not lack of software; it’s readily available. The Minnesota Department of Administration estimates the cost at $1 to $1.5 million, and cites lack of dedicated funding. The cost of such a database is not as high as the Department antidicpates. The federal government implemented software that tracked spending for ~$200K last year – a fraction of the state’s estimate.

Here’s the evolution of the database tracking software. In 2006, OMB Watch devised fedspending.org. In 2007, the federal government found it to be so compelling that it adopted it as its own. And so, usaspending.gov was born. The same software the feds use is – and has been – available to Minnesota. The mandate from the legislature is almost a year old. Only the data appears to be lacking. Could 2008 be the year MN gets its database to track its own spending?

Helen Burke, hburke@hclib.org

Keeping an Eye on MN Legislature

Posted by: on Feb 21, 2008 | No Comments

How and where Minnesota’s Congressional delegation working on Internet issues. Some interesting stories linked to each legislator’s name and locale. (Save the Internet)

A quick glimpse at legislative, judicial and regulatory realities in Minnesota, published by Free Press.
Note that Free Press will be holding their Media Reform Conference in Mpls June 6-8 2008. – Just as the title suggests, a look at who owns TV, radio, print media, the web, films and more.