State Agency Backs Minnesota Newspaper in Data Practices Case

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The state’s data practices chief sided with the Independent newspaper in a dispute with the city over releasing the names of two of the four finalists for a city government position.

Department of Administration Commissioner Dana B. Badgerow said the city did not comply with state law in August when it denied the newspaper access to the names of the two remaining finalists for the post of economic development director.

In her opinion, dated Monday, Badgerow said it appeared the city initially considered four candidates. Two dropped out at some point, and the city then should have released the names of the remaining two, she said.

City officials said they had turned down the newspaper’s request for the two names because a list of all four finalists already had been released, and that naming the remaining two would hamper the city’s ability to negotiate an agreement with the final candidate.

In response to the ruling, City Attorney Dennis Simpson released the names of the two Wednesday: William Bay III and Timothy S. Fox. Bay worked for a Wisconsin company when he interviewed, while Fox was the Charles City, Iowa, economic development coordinator. The city hired Mark Hanson of Austin, who was one of the four finalists.

The Independent’s lawyer, Mark Anfinson, said the commissioner’s opinion will be helpful across the state. As other governmental units hire staff, he said, it’s critical for the public to have access to the information during the process.

Simpson said he believed the city acted within the law. “I’m not sure I totally agree with the advisory opinion, but we will live with it and go on,” he said.

Independent Publisher Russ Labat said the newspaper wanted to ensure that governmental entities follow the law in the future.

“I think it is a reminder the Independent will be vigilant and serious about pursuing information from local governments, but more importantly, that local governments need to be cooperative and accountable when the public asks for information,” Editor Dana Yost said.

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