Video of 2021 Finnegan FOI Award Ceremony

Video is now available of the 2021 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Awards ceremony. This year, John R. Finnegan awards were presented to:

  • the partnership of Mapping Prejudice & Hennepin County; and
  • Barry LaGrave, Director of Minnesota House Public Information Services, and Steve Senyk, Director of Minnesota Senate Media Services.

This ceremony, held virtually on March 15th, 2021, featured remarks by all award recipients and a presentation on the Mapping Prejudice project.

MNCOGI: Freedom of Information Awards Ceremony

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) is pleased to present this year’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Awards to the partnership of Mapping Prejudice & Hennepin County and also to directors of Minnesota House and Senate information services. The awards ceremony will feature a presentation on the Mapping Prejudice project. It is free and open to the public, but registration is required.Time

Mar 15, 2021 07:00 PM in Central Time (US and Canada)

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) 2021 Freedom of Information awards honor the partnership of Mapping Prejudice & Hennepin County and also the directors of Minnesota House and Senate information services

Public is invited to a virtual award ceremony featuring a presentation on the Mapping Prejudice Project.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) is pleased to announce 

that two teams will receive this year’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award: 

The Mapping Prejudice Project and Hennepin County, working in partnership, documented the widespread use of racial covenants in property deeds restricting ownership to Caucasians from 1910 to 1955. The Project raised awareness of deep-seated past prejudices and led to significant changes in public policy. Project leaders, based at the University of Minnesota, and thousands of volunteers used a wide range of technology to extract data from more than one million scanned deed images and make the findings publicly available via maps and other resources.  “It was shocking for people to see the extensive use of covenants and read phrases like . . . ‘said premises shall never be occupied by a colored person or for any immoral use’,” wrote Will Craig and Steve Brandt in nominating the Project for this award. Other covenants offered explicit lists of those to be excluded – for example, “premises shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent.” Mapping Prejudice staff has made 300 public presentations, and its website attracted nearly 200,000 unique visitors. Strong public response included a state law enabling homeowners to legally discharge prejudicial language from their property records. Now, local governments across Hennepin County are taking steps to make it easier for owners to learn about covenants. The Project has expanded to Ramsey County and beyond. As the eyes of the world turned to Minneapolis in May of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, national media organizations drew on the Project’s maps and contextual historical framework to help foster understanding of the factors leading to the ensuing social movement.  

Barry LaGrave, Director of Minnesota House Public Information Services, and Steve Senyk, Director of Minnesota Senate Media Services, made significant contributions to open government in Minnesota by leading their respective offices to provide legislative information as the pandemic forced reductions in physical public access to state government. In 2020, the state House and Senate adopted rules to allow for remote hearings. These two directors of non-partisan legislative offices quickly adapted during the middle of the 2020 session, making it possible to record and process such meetings. Their challenge demanded scrambling to add resources, including hardware, staff, and additional contracted resources. “The past year has required quick thinking, sudden adaptations, creativity, attention to detail, teamwork, and expanded infrastructure, all of which Barry and Steve brought to bear in their work,” wrote staffers of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library in nominating LaGrave and Senyk for this award. “As the 2021 legislative session approached, both media offices upped their game and increased the streams available on the Internet… to address the committee structures that had been put in place to better adapt to the realities of COVID-19 and remote committee hearings.” Beyond timely public access to the workings of Minnesota government, those efforts also led to audio and visual files that are archived for use by legislative researchers, the media and the public. 

Award ceremony: When: Monday, March 15th, 7 pmHow to join: The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Please use this link to register: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_DM4xJp7WR0mC6L_mkF.vi9A

MNCOGI 2020 Finnegan Freedom of Information Award

On November 17, 2020, MNCOGI hosted a virtual 2020 Finnegan award ceremony, followed by a panel discussion that featured APM Reports “In the Dark” team members, and was moderated by Professor Jane Kirtley. Jane Kirtley is the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, and a MNCOGI board member.

View the event here.

https://vimeo.com/twelveplus/review/480957142/6107d1276a

MNCOGI’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award honored APM Reports “In the Dark” team of host Madeleine Baran, producers Samara Freemark, Natalie Jablonski and Rehman Tungekar, and reporters Parker Yesko and Will Craft for outstanding work on podcasts aired since 2016. One series scrutinized the law enforcement system in the case of the kidnapping and killing of Jacob Wetterling.  Another examined the case of Curtis Flowers, who had been convicted in Mississippi for a 1996 murder but won six retrials and a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling due to flawed prosecution. The APM team arduously dug into public records, assembled sophisticated data analysis and creatively deployed the narrative podcast form to deliver powerful and compelling exposures of injustice.

MNCOGI’s Lifetime Achievement Award honored First Amendment attorney John Borger (posthumously) for a significant body of accomplishments that helped to advance and preserve the public’s right to government transparency. Borger, a long-time MNCOGI board member, worked for decades to protect Minnesota’s sunshine laws. His dogged commitment to allowing facts to be uncovered and published has benefited all Minnesotans. In landmark public access cases and dozens of everyday open-records and open-meeting battles, Borger fought to assure that public officials lived up to the demands of data practices law. Borger died on December 16, 2019. MNCOGI’s future Lifetime Achievement Awards will be named in his honor.

MNCOGI presents 2020 Finnegan Freedom of Information Award

On November 17, 2020 at 7:00pm, MNCOGI will host its virtual 2020 Finnegan award ceremony, followed by a panel discussion featuring APM Reports “In the Dark” team members, and moderated by Professor Jane Kirtley. Jane Kirtley is the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, and a MNCOGI board member.

To attend the event, join from a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or Android device, and Click Here to Join

Or join via iPhone one-tap :US: +16699006833,,89164507394# or +12532158782,,89164507394#

Or join via telephone:Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 253 215 8782 or +1 346 248 7799 or +1 312 626 6799 or +1 929 205 6099 or 301 715 8592Webinar ID: 891 6450 7394

MNCOGI’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award will honor APM Reports “In the Dark” team of host Madeleine Baran, producers Samara Freemark, Natalie Jablonski and Rehman Tungekar and reporters Parker Yesko and Will Craft for outstanding work on podcasts aired since 2016. One series scrutinized the law enforcement system in the case of the kidnapping and killing of Jacob Wetterling.  Another examined the case of Curtis Flowers, who had been convicted in Mississippi for a 1996 murder but won six retrials and a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling due to flawed prosecution. The APM team arduously dug into public records, assembled sophisticated data analysis and creatively deployed the narrative podcast form to deliver powerful and compelling exposures of injustice.
MNCOGI’s Lifetime Achievement Award will honor First Amendment attorney John Borger (posthumously) for a significant body of accomplishments that have helped to advance and preserve the public’s right to government transparency. Borger, a long-time MNCOGI board member, worked for decades to protect Minnesota’s sunshine laws. His dogged commitment to allowing facts to be uncovered and published has benefited all Minnesotans. In landmark public access cases and dozens of everyday open-records and open-meeting battles, Borger fought to assure that public officials lived up to the demands of data practices law. Borger died on December 16, 2019. MNCOGI’s future Lifetime Achievement Awards will be named in his honor.

Please note: The virtual FOI Award ceremony replaces the in-person ceremony previously scheduled for March 16, 2020 and was cancelled due to COVID-19.

MNCOGI Signs Statement on Government Coronavirus Emergency Transparency and Public Access

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.

2020 FOI Award Ceremony Announcement

March 13th Update

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues to impact the lives of Minnesotans. In light of recent events, including cancellations by numerous organizations and the declared state of emergency in Minnesota, MNCOGI has decided to postpone the March 16th Freedom of Information Award Ceremony.

We will continue to monitor the news, and will arrange to hold the Freedom of Information Award Ceremony at a future date. As soon as arrangements allow, we will provide an updated date for the Freedom of Information Award Ceremony.

Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to welcoming you to the Freedom of Information Award Ceremony in the near future.

If you have any questions, contact us at [contact@mncogi.org]

ST. PAUL, MN
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 2/12/20

Freedom of information awards go to APM Reports’ “In the Dark” team and to First Amendment attorney John Borger (posthumously)

Public is invited to award ceremony featuring a panel discussion by “In the Dark” team members

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) is pleased to announce:

  • This year’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award will honor the APM Reports “In the Dark” team of host Madeleine Baran, producers Samara Freemark, Natalie Jablonski and Rehman Tungekar and reporters Parker Yesko and Will Craft for outstanding work on podcasts aired since 2016. The first series explored the kidnapping and killing of Jacob Wetterling, scrutinizing the law enforcement system that failed for decades to solve the case. The second series examined the case of Curtis Flowers who had been convicted in Mississippi for a 1996 quadruple murder but won six retrials and a favorable U.S. Supreme Court ruling due to flawed prosecution. The team arduously dug into public records, assembled sophisticated data analysis and creatively deployed the narrative podcast form to deliver powerful and compelling exposures of injustice. In nominating the team for the award, MNCOGI chair Gary Hill wrote: “In some instances, the records were dumped in warehouses where mice shredded them to make nests. Reporters had to wear masks and gloves to sort through the records.” The team assembled data on the prosecution by obtaining records from 418 trials and scanning more than 115,000 pages of court documents. “All this work allowed APM to report that in these trials prosecutors struck black jurors at 4.5 times the rate white jurors were struck,” Hill wrote. “U.S. Supreme Court observers say they think this was one of the reasons the court agreed to hear the case and why they threw out Mr. Flowers’ conviction, allowing him to be released on bail while awaiting a decision whether he would be tried again.”
  • This year’s lifetime achievement award will honor First Amendment attorney John Borger (posthumously) for a significant body of accomplishments that have helped to advance and preserve the public’s right to government transparency. Borger, a long-time MNCOGI board member, worked for decades to protect Minnesota’s sunshine laws. His dogged commitment to allowing facts to be uncovered and published has benefited all Minnesotans. He was one of the country’s pre-eminent First Amendment lawyers, named in 2018 as “Champion of the First Amendment,” the highest honor from the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law (only the third to receive the prestigious award). In bestowing the award, the Forum noted Borger lifetime work “passionately and zealously fighting to hold public officials and institutions accountable through transparency.” In nominating Borger for this MNCOGI award, journalist Steve Brandt, cited his landmark public access battles – including a 1976 case that set ground rules for the attorney-client exception to the Open Meeting Law for succeeding generations, and the 2004 case in which the Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled that state open-government laws apply to the search for a University of Minnesota president. Further, Brandt listed everyday cases in which Borger fought to assure that public officials lived up to the demands of data practices law — safeguarding public access to court hearings and files, to arrest information, to official phone records and much more. In closing, Brandt quoted Borger’s own words on the day he accepted the ABA award: “I have carried a torch for the First Amendment for more than 50 years. I hope I lit a few candles along the way. The First Amendment torch now burns with you, and you, and you. Hold it high. The road goes ever on and on. Many important battles lie ahead.” Borger died on Dec. 16, 2019.
  • MNCOGI’s future lifetime achievement awards will be named in John Borger’s honor.

Award ceremony

When: Monday, March 16th, 7 pm
Where: Pohlad Hall, Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
RSVP: Click Here

The award ceremony will include a panel discussion by “In the Dark” team members, moderated by Professor Jane Kirtley.

The public is most welcome to attend.

This press release is available for download as a PDF here.

MNCOGI Remembers Board Member John Borger

MNCOGI regrets to observe the passing of Twin Cities media attorney and MNCOGI board member John Borger.  John leaves behind a significant body of accomplishments that have helped to advance and preserve democratic self-government.  In state and federal court, John defended the free speech protections so necessary to the maintenance of a free press and citizenry.  Through administrative actions and legal challenges, John also worked to protect our state’s open records law – the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.  His dogged commitment to allowing facts to be uncovered – and published – has benefited all Minnesotans.  

John’s family is holding a memorial event on January 2 at the University of Minnesota’s Andersen Library.  The event will run from 4-8pm, with a program from 6-7pm.

For more information on John’s life and legacy, please see his obituary, the Star Tribune’s coverage and editorial, and a Minnpost remembrance by media lawyer Leita Walker.

Inspections of pet breeders: Who should see the findings?

When: 12 noon to 1:15 p.m., Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Where: Rondo Community Library, 461 North Dale Street, St. Paul MN 55103

Sponsor: Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

RSVP: Click Here

Since 2014, state law has required commercial dog and cat breeding facilities to be licensed and inspected by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. The inspection reports generally are not open to the public. Should people have the right to scrutinize those reports just as they might look into results of inspections of day care centers, restaurants and other regulated facilities? Animal welfare advocates have lobbied the legislature seeking to open the reports to the public. Yet they remain secret.   

Please join us for a conversation about a question that is likely to come before the Minnesota Legislature.

Speakers:

  • Don Gemberling, The state’s top expert on the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act
  • Sen. John Marty, Minnesota State Senate
  • Ann Olson, Founder/Executive Director, Animal Folks
  • Prof. Beth A. Ventura, University of Minnesota Department of Animal Science
  • Moderator: James Shiffer, a Star Tribune editor who oversees coverage of Minneapolis and St. Paul

RSVP: Click Here

Box lunches will be served to those with advance reservations.

Attendance will be limited, so please reserve your space today.

Share this event on Facebook and Twitter

The library is on the METRO Green Line, Dale Street Station. It has free underground parking.

We hope you can make it!

2019 John R. Finnegan FOI Award Ceremony Announcement

STAR TRIBUNE TEAM CHOSEN FOR THE 2019 JOHN R. FINNEGAN FREEDOM OF INFORMATION AWARD

MNCOGI’s board is pleased to announce that this year’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award will honor the Star Tribune team of Brandon Stahl, Jennifer Bjorhus, MaryJo Webster and Renee Jones Schneider for outstanding work on the nine-part series “Denied Justice,” published in July through December 2018. The articles exposed the mishandling of rape cases across Minnesota and showed how the state’s justice system is failing victims of rape. To accomplish that public service, the reporting team made extensive use of Minnesota law requiring most inactive criminal investigative files to be open to the public.

In nominating the team of journalists for the award, MNCOGI board member Don Gemberling wrote: “These stories have already led various criminal justice organizations to change policies and procedures on how sexual assaults are handled. The series caused the creation of statewide task forces to examine and make changes how the system handles sex crimes. Largely because of this reporting, the state Police Officers Standards and Training Board has issued new required standards for how police officers are trained and how they should handle reports of sexual assault in the future. Most importantly, the work of these reports has caused the Legislature to more closely examine the issues that were raised and to begin a process of amending Minnesota Statutes to address and to fix problems identified by the stories.”

Contact:  MNCOGI Chair Gary Hill
ghillgary@gmail.com

Finnegan Award Ceremony

When: Noon – 1PM on Thursday, March 14th
WhereRondo Community Library – 461 N Dale St., Saint Paul
RSVP: Click Here

The award ceremony will include a keynote by MaryJo Webster. All four winners of the Finnegan Award will participate in a panel discussion moderated by Don Gemberling.

Boxed lunches will be provided for those who RSVP.