Sunday, October 15, 2017

"Perhaps for their next investigation, the Regents could hire a lawyer to look into why the U takes so long to hand over public information."

When another sexual harassment story at the U broke last May, the Board of Regents spent $74,000 examining cell phones to determine who leaked the story to the press. After months of futile searching, they gave up the hunt and called it a success.

Eli Schiffer of the Star Tribune believes that the reason the U was so paranoid about leakers is related to restrictions in the state open records law. He writes:

Every year, the Legislature adds more restrictions to the state’s open records law. There are 660 and counting. Releasing private and restricted information carries serious penalties, including possible criminal prosecution, so it’s hardly surprising that agencies err on the side of withholding information.

And the University of Minnesota knows as well as any agency that no one’s going to get prosecuted for hiding what should be public.

Last year, I sent identical data requests to 27 units of state government. Because government officials often complain about the burden of fulfilling requests for data from the public, I wanted to see their lists of requests and who was making them.

Most agencies responded within weeks. It took the U four months to hand over its list, despite having a supposedly sophisticated system of tracking each request. Only Minnesota Management and Budget took longer than the U, though it should be said that one agency, the state Department of Education, never complied at all.

Perhaps for their next investigation, the regents could hire a lawyer to look into why the U takes so long to hand over public information. Plenty of witnesses are ready to come forward.

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