Posted by: on Jul 20, 2010 | No Comments

IPAD Open Meeting Law Workshop

Posted by: on Dec 14, 2009 | No Comments

The Information Policy Analysis Division will present a half-day Open Meeting Law workshop on January 27 in St. Paul. The workshop offers a practical look at how public bodies in Minnesota can meet their obligations under the Open Meeting Law (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13D).

What: Open Meeting Law Workshop

When: Wednesday, January 27, 2010; 8:30 a.m. – 12:30p.m.

Where: Department of Administration Building, 50 Sherburne Ave., St. Paul

Cost: $75 per person or $60 per person for groups or 4 or more

For information and registration, visit

New technology; the same laws apply

Posted by: on Aug 3, 2009 | No Comments

An article in the August State News magazine focuses on social media in government, “The New Public Sphere.” It includes a reminder section — “Old Rules, New Media Open Records Laws Apply to Government Business, Regardless of Outlet.”

Vendor Evaluation Reports Online

Posted by: on May 20, 2009 | No Comments

Many times web access is a vast improvement over paper sitting on shelves – not only for sheer accessibility, but in terms of how the information can be used. The Department of Administration has just released one of those vast improvements to a report that was mandated by the Legislature several years ago. Minnesota Statutes 16C.08, subd. 4(c), requires that upon completion of a contract over $50,000, agencies submit a one-page report, summarizing the purpose of the contract, stating the amount spent on the contract, and including a written performance evaluation of the work done under the contract. Previously, those reports were available only in print, in the Library, in the binders shown in the image to the left. Now it is possible to learn of agencies’ experiences with various vendors by searching online. Reports since March 1, 2009, have been posted, will be updated weekly, and can be searched by agency or vendor name. This is great progress.

Robbie LaFleur (originally published on the Legislative Reference Library website)

Wrong…not correct… A line-by-line review

Posted by: on May 13, 2009 | No Comments

See the posting below for Don Gemberling’s thoughts on the recently-released report, Accessing Government: How difficult is it? Comments on specific lines and sections can be found in this annotated copy. His comments are astute, even if his handwriting is sometimes cryptic!

Accessing Government: A copy with Don’s Comments

Robbie LaFleur

“The Public’s Right to Know”

Posted by: on Apr 27, 2009 | No Comments

An editorial today in the Minnesota Daily (the student newspaper at the U of M) describes two data practices-related bills in play at the Legislature. It closes with “At a public university, the thirst for knowledge and information ought not to be squelched for lust of money. It is imperative that Minnesota lawmakers land on the side of transparency on both bills, which would dangerously close the channels of public information if passed.” (More information on the “Tubby Smith” bill at the Star Tribune, “Legislators Debate Tubby Smith Act: Data vs Privacy.”)

Posted by: on Jul 31, 2008 | No Comments

First, I have a creative and motivated staff at the Legislative Reference
Library, and great colleagues in other offices at the Legislature. To a
great extent I feel like I hardly do anything and I get to bask in
recognition. (Please visit us!) I share your strong journalistic beliefs
in transparency and accountability in government, and the importance of an
informed electorate. At our Library we are committed to providing the
best possible information services to the Legislature in order to have
informed legislators, and to ensuring that citizens have access to
legislative information. I´ve been at the Legislative Library for over
twenty years, as I usually say, back in the time when I had to walk to the
Capitol next door to get a copy of a bill. All that time we have worked
to document statistics on the Legislature, track down all of those reports
required by the Legislature, and distribute state documents. Of course
during that time technology exploded, creating even more opportunities.
Since 1994 legislative staff worked to put all of the information
available to people who CAME to the Capitol online. That was accomplished
in about four years, and since then the amount of legislative information
and the ways to access it have never stopped improving. We feel strongly
about making information available today, and also 15 or 40 years from
now. In the Library we started a program to archive electronic copies of
state documents, especially those the Legislature requires. Because even
though a report may exist on an agency website now, the office might not
even exist in the future. We have created databases we know will have
wide interest. We have a database with biographical information on all
legislators who have ever served. We unveiled a database just this week
of scanned executive orders back to 1968. But I know that technology does
not equal transparency. For example, we are thrilled with the volume of
information that is provided by state and federal agencies. But the
information agencies choose to put online isn´t always the information you
need, and Web sites don´t always help you identify the agency staff person
who will have the answers. I am a board member of the Minnesota Coalition
on Government information (or MNCOGI), and we have a strong emphasis on
working towards open government information at all levels of government.
For over twenty years our group has given an annual Freedom of Information
Award, named after John Finnegan, on Freedom of Information Day. Recently
MNCOGI established formal nonprofit status. I hope you will check out the
website, at, attend upcoming educational forums, and
participate in the group. Thank you again!

Nothing to read in Cuba, Part Two

Posted by: on Apr 22, 2008 | No Comments

(Note: I didn’t realize this essay would require posting in two parts – read the post below first! Robbie LaFleur)

Poverty in Cuba is crushing. The infrastructure of Havana and the small towns through which we traveled was in depressingly disastrous shape. We visited a group of elderly people in a ‘home church’ in Havana. They can’t afford the modest bus fare to get to the Cathedral. They support one another spiritually and in other ways. Our group was moved by these parishioners and wanted to make a donation. When asked about their greatest needs, they said basic pain killers, like Ibuprofen. Remarkably, they could not tell us what a large bottle would cost. The pills are so expensive that no one buys more than a few at a time.

I have the highest respect, admiration and love for the people I met in Cuba. Their warmth and hospitality humbled us each day. And I respect the Cuban government’s long-term dedication to health care and literacy. But lack of freedom of movement and lack of access to information are other forms of poverty, and create a situation that makes people guarded and cautious. The harshest government criticism I ever heard was the often-repeated phrase, “These are hard times for Cuba.” (Compare that to Minnesota bloggers talking about the Legislature!)

As a librarian for the Legislature, I spend a great deal of time promoting government transparency. Legislative staff members from many offices work tirelessly to find more ways to get legislative information online and to reach citizens. As a board member of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, I work with a group devoted to citizen access to information. We present an annual “Freedom of Information” award. Through the lens of my experience, I was amazed at information isolation of Cubans.

So I commend the Minnesota House of Representatives. Trade and open borders are incredibly important in helping the people of Cuba. Why should Cuba be singled out for onerous trade restrictions? When a Cuban bishop visited the Twin Cities last fall he asked, “What about human rights issues in China?” Rep. Heidgerken echoed that sentiment on the floor of the House, noting “I have a bigger issue with China than Cuba.”

Significantly freer trade could not help but improve access to information for Cubans. Think of the amount of personal business we now do via the Web. How long can the Cuban government continue to restrict Web access and also offer increased business opportunities?

Some recent articles on Cuba are optimistic in tone. The March 3 issue of Business Week featured “After the Smoke Clears,” predicting economic growth potential in spite of current difficult conditions for Cubans. I hope that’s true! On the other hand, current government repression of opposition groups is detailed in the May, 2008, issue of Harper’s, “The Battle of Ideas: Searching for the Opposition in Post-Fidel Cuba.”

So thanks to all the Minnesota legislators who support greater trade between Minnesota and Cuba. Rep. Kahn said that by passing the resolution, Minnesota is sending the message that it wants to open up “economic, intellectual and social” communications with Cuba. But in addition to farm products, I hope that when travel opens up that we can send LOTS of Minnesotans with plasterboard and paint!

Robbie LaFleur (

Nothing to read in Cuba, Part One

Posted by: on Apr 22, 2008 | No Comments

It was heartening to see the passage of the resolution supporting trade in Cuba in the Minnesota House of Representatives on April 17, 86-9. (More information from MPR and the House of Representatives Session Daily) Several members have visited Cuba. Rep. Phyllis Kahn, author of the resolution, is a tireless advocate for more open trade. Rep. Erhardt visited five years ago. Representatives Magnus and Juhnke visited just this month with a trade delegation from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Their personal experiences strengthened their resolve to improve trade with Cuba – to do what we can to help Cubans.

I visited Cuba for ten days in January with a group from St. Mark’s Cathedral, sent to strengthen relationships with Cubans generally, and in particular, the Episcopalian Diocese. The trip was definitely life-changing. I went with a very open mind – after all, isn’t health care available to all? Isn’t there an extremely high level of literacy? I came back with a degree of anger I had not anticipated. Does it matter if there is a high level of literacy if there is nothing to read? Perhaps librarians are used to a high level of information saturation, but don’t we all enjoy access to hundreds of newspapers and websites online? Americans drown in books and magazines. Cubans do not. Before we left for Cuba, our group members stocked up on useful items to give as gifts – shampoo, soap, aspirin, etc. Only one person, Ellen, chose the category of Spanish-language reading materials; she brought a Spanish language women’s magazine. After checking out the clothes and make-up tips in Siempre Mujer over Cuban rum one evening, we left it in the dorm lounge area in the cathedral where we were staying. There were no other reading materials around. Later, after midnight, I walked through the lounge area and found the Dean of the cathedral sitting by a reading lamp, engrossed in the magazine. The next morning the church cleaning woman was poring over the magazine. Later she found Ellen and hugged her warmly. “Gracias! I love you.”

Does it matter if there is a high level of literacy if access to information is cruelly restricted? Web access is not allowed. Even clergy in Havana have to go to a tourist hotel and purchase Internet time to search the Web. I believe it was $4.00 for a few minutes. Keep in mind that average salaries are around $20/month. We stayed with a family in a small village in the countryside. The eldest daughter was beginning her college at a regional university, where she planned to become a lawyer and was studying human rights. Is it possible get a well-rounded legal education without unfettered access to the Web?

E-mail is allowed, but perhaps not trusted. After Raul Castro gained more power recently a friend sent the text of relevant New York Times and Los Angeles Times articles to a Cuban colleague. His response was pretty immediate, but guarded. “Are you doing well? How is your family? ”

Cogi-tations Meeting with Jim Nobles

Posted by: on Apr 9, 2008 | No Comments

Last night (April 8) Jim Nobles spoke about his work as the Minnesota Legislative Auditor. His conversation with our group was thoughtful and inspiring. He talked about the mission of the office as good government. In a democracy elections are important, but good government also requires effective mechanisms in place, which includes an oversight office like the OLA. He felt privileged, “It’s rare to be free of the pull of partisan politics and find objective facts.” Their mission is to strengthen government accountability.

When asked how he ensures that the reports and writing of the staff are objective and free of bias, he mentioned two points. One way to defeat bias is with an absolute commitment to
accuracy. He also has many people review all the reports, and even his half-page memos.

He talked about a point he wants to make to policymakers who are committed to cutting budgets and making government smaller. Even if large cuts are made, “At the end of the day, Minnesota government will still be really big, really complicated, and really important.”
Like it or not, government delivers important functions, and they are complex processes, as complex as the systems in large corporations. It is the role of legislators to keep pressure on government to work well, and to expect high performance of agencies.

Robbie LaFleur