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]


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.

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.


  • 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!

Brandon Smith speaks on lawsuit that pried open police video At 2016 Freedom of Information Day & Finnegan FOI Award Ceremony

Minneapolis, MN: February 16 – At noon Wednesday, March 16, 2016, the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) will present its annual Freedom of Information Day Award at the Minneapolis Central Library. The event coincides with Sunshine Week, a national initiative aimed at highlighting government transparency.

The keynote speaker for the event is independent journalist Brandon Smith, whose lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department forced the City of Chicago to release a police dash cam video. The video shows a police officer shooting 17­year­old Laquan McDonald 16 times as he walked away from the officer on a Chicago street in October 2014. On November 24, 2015, after battling the release of the video for months, and just hours before its release to the public, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez charged police Officer Jason Van Dyke with first degree murder.

Following Brandon Smith’s remarks, MNCOGI will bestow its annual John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award to the 2016 recipient. The John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award was established by MNCOGI in 1989 and is named for the retired senior vice­president and assistant publisher of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Finnegan was a lifelong stalwart of open meetings, open records and the First Amendment. He was instrumental in creating the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act – the state’s open records framework. Each year, the award honors a M innesotan or Minnesota institution whose work demonstrates leadership and commitment to the power of information to effect change.

When: Wednesday, March 16, 2016, 12:00pm­1:00pm
Where: Minneapolis Central Library, Pohlad Hall, 300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls, MN 55401

Freedom of Information Day is commemorated each year on March 16th, the birthdate of James Madison, a champion of access and transparency in government.

MNCOGI recognizes three outstanding FOI advocates

Upon receiving the 2014 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award, Timberjay Newspapers publisher Marshall Helmberger said he’s gratified to know “Minnesotans still appreciate German-Norwegian stubbornness.”

Helmberger accepted the award Friday, March 14 at the annual Minnesota Coalition on Government Information FOI Day event in Minneapolis. Two pioneers for government transparency, Rodgers Adams and Robert Shaw, also received lifetime achievement awards.

MNCOGI honored Helmberger for his nearly three-year legal fight to uncover construction cost irregularities by the St. Louis County school district. The district and its contractor refused to disclose figures for a taxpayer-funded school construction project. Timberjay vs. Johnson Controls reached the Minnesota Supreme Court and prompted a legislative push to clarify how such contracts are structured.

“This fight is not over,” Helmberger said after receiving the award. He also praised First Amendment attorney  Mark Anfinson for his pro bono work on the case that Helmberger credited for “leveling the playing field” for a small newspaper going up against a Fortune 500 company with a well-financed team of lawyers.

MNCOGI also recognized two contemporaries of John Finnegan for their work with the late St. Paul Pioneer Press publisher to enact the law establishing the presumption of openness for government documents in Minnesota.

Robert Shaw, former executive director of the Minnesota Newspaper Association, and Rodgers Adams, a former assistant editor at the Star Tribune were presented with lifetime achievement awards at the event.

Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson gave the keynote address at the ceremony. He quoted Mark Twain, folk singer John Prine and Star Tribune reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger to both praise and excoriate members of the press.

“I don’t love the press,” Anderson said. “I treasure your role and I respect you.”

Anderson is recognized as a proponent of government transparency, but spoke of instances where inaccurate news reports put him in uncomfortable positions, including questioning by the FBI.

Attend a free Eonomic Census seminar, Tuesday, August 31

This just in from Kirsten Clark, MNCOGI Board member & Regional Librarian at U of MN:

Free Seminar on the Economic Census

Date: August 31, 2010
Location: University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (West Bank), Andersen Library, Room 120
Session Times: 9am – noon (Session 1) and 1pm – 4pm (Session 2)
Both sessions cover the same information.

Trainers from the Census Bureau will introduce new information about the American economy available through the 2007 Economic Census. Attendees will gain skills in accessing Economic Census data in American FactFinder, learn practical applications of the data, and see what others have done with the data. Trainers will demonstrate a series of exercises structured to reinforce key concepts, working with industry and local area data.

* Are you new to the Economic Census? You will learn about the range of business data available from the Census Bureau, including the Economic Census conducted every 5 years, and more frequent reports.
* Are you an experienced data user? You will learn about new features of the data, shortcuts for more efficient data access, comparability issues, and qualifications of the data.

Registration information as well as additional information about the seminars is available at: http://govpubs.lib.umn.edu/regional/outreach/meetings/EconomicCensus.phtml.
Kirsten Clark
Government Information and Regional Depository Librarian
10 Wilson Library
University of Minnesota
309 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0414

email: clark881@umn.edu
phone: 612-626-7520
fax: 612-626-9353
web: http://govpubs.lib.umn.edu
Gtalk: clark881@umn.edu

Fair Use and Social Media: A Primer

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.

Chief Justice Magnuson Keynote at 21st annual Freedom of Information Day Award Ceremony

Freedom of Information advocates hear Chief Justice Magnuson, honor local newspaper editor Anfinson and promote open access
Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson will deliver the keynote speech at the 21st annual Freedom of Information Day Award Ceremony on Tuesday, March 16, Noon-1:00 at Minneapolis Central Library Pohlad Auditorium. Chief Justice Magnuson will explore the freedom of information implications of two significant processes with which he has been closely involved – the Minnesota Senate election recount and the ongoing debate surrounding the issue of cameras in the courtroom.
A highlight of the Freedom of Information Day event is presentation of the 2010 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.  Reed Anfinson, publisher and owner of the Swift County Monitor-News will receive the award which recognizes his commitment to transparency and open government at the local and national levels.  Anfinson is on the Board of the National Newspaper Association; in 2012 he will assume the national presidency of the association. Finnegan, for whom the award was named two decades ago, will make the presentation.  The Award is a testament to Finnegan’s lifetime commitment to a free press and a transparent government.
Open government advocates celebrate Freedom of Information Day each year on March 16, the birth date of James Madison.  Often identified as the Father (or one of the fathers) of the Constitution, Madison is a hero of freedom of information proponents who are wont to quote Madison’s admonition that “a popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both.” 
Sponsors of Freedom of Information Day at the national and levels include a host of professional and advocacy organizations – journalists and newspaper editors, librarians, researchers and archivists, diverse nonprofit groups committed to open and accessible  government, particularly in an era of economic, political and technological change. Freedom of Information Day is the highlight of Sunshine Week, an initiative of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Local sponsor of FOI is the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.  The event is free and open to the public. 
For additional information about Freedom of Information Day, Sunshine Week, or the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information contact:
Mary Treacy, Executive Director
612 781 4234 or 612 703 3290

Sunshine Week 2010 Webcast – Building Transparency

Friday, March 19, 2010

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. CST

Participants in past Sunshine Week webcasts have expressed a preference for viewing/participating from their own office rather than gathering for a group view.

No registration required.

The link will be available 24 hrs. prior to the event at the SW event page.
Panelists include Norm Eisen, Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform; and Miriam Nisbet, Director of the Office of Government Information.

Reed Anfinson Receives John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award

February 8, 2010 — The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) announced today that Reed Anfinson, publisher of the Swift County Monitor-News, will receive the 2010 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award. Anfinson will be honored at the annual Freedom of Information Day recognition event, on Tuesday, March 16, noon-1:00 at the Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

Anfinson is a long-term journalist and advocate for access to government information at the local, state and national levels. He has testified frequently before both the Minnesota Legislature and the U.S. Congress on Freedom of Information and First Amendment issues.

Since 1994 he has co-chaired the Minnesota Newspaper Association’s legislative committee and currently chairs the National Newspaper Association Government Relations Committee. In 2012 Anfinson becomes President of the National Newspaper Association.

For the past 30 years Anfinson has been associated with the Swift County Monitor-News as a reporter, managing editor, and now publisher and owner. In this role he has published frequent editorials and articles on open government, including articles on the state’s Data Practices Act, open meeting regulations and discussions of the impact of video and digital technology on public access.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, a nonprofit corporation formed in 1989, is dedicated to ensuring access to government information and public records. MNCOGI provides public education programs, manages a website and blog, maintains links with other state coalitions and promotes public awareness of information policy issues. In June 2009 MNCOGI hosted the annual Summit of the National Freedom of Information Coalition in Minneapolis.

The Freedom of Information Award, established by the Coalition in 1989, is named for John R. Finnegan, Sr, retired senior vice president and assistant publisher of the St Paul Pioneer Press. Finnegan is founder and stalwart of the Minnesota Joint Media Committee which has consistently supported open records, open meetings and other First Amendment-related causes in the Legislature and other public arenas in Minnesota.

*** Podcast interview with Reed Anfinson about the importance of Freedom of Information (conducted by Renee McGivern) *** 

The Freedom of Information Day event is free and open to the public.

Additional information on the MNCOGI website at www.mncogi.org or contact mtreacy@onvoymail.com or 612-781-4234.