2022 FOI Awards Announcement

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) 2022 Freedom of Information awards honor:

  • Brandon Stahl, A. J. Lagoe, Gary Knox & Steve Eckert for KARE 11 Investigates –“The Gap: Failure to Treat, Failure to Protect” ;
  • Leita Walker for coordinating a media coalition whose advocacy resulted in Minnesota’s first live-streamed criminal trial; and
  • James Barnum for his tireless devotion to and pursuit of keeping government records public for over three decades

The public is invited to a virtual award ceremony featuring a discussion with the recipients.

MNCOGI is pleased to announce recipients of this year’s John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award: 

Brandon Stahl, A. J. Lagoe, Gary Knox and Steve Eckert devoted eight months to studying how lapses in mental health services played a role in a mass shooting and bombing in rural Minnesota. Their interviews, data collection and analysis resulted in the October 2021 broadcast of KARE 11 Investigates – “The Gap: Failure to Treat, Failure to Protect.” Prompted by the tragic killing and mass shooting at the rural health clinic by a mentally ill criminal, and attempting to account for its occurrence, Stahl, Lagoe, Knox and Eckert sought relevant health and judicial records of criminal defendants with mental illness. Their own analysis showed many are at large and receive no medical services. Now, just over a year after the mass shooting and four months after the broadcast of “The Gap: Failure to Treat, Failure to Protect,” the work by Stahl, Lagoe, Knox and Eckert demonstrates that records discovery and analysis can lead to greater public awareness and the proposal of a legislative remedy. 

Leita Walker, First Amendment attorney, litigator and trial lawyer at Ballard Spahr, coordinated a media coalition that provided the judiciary with ample reason to allow cameras to record a criminal trial in Minnesota for the first time. Thanks to Walker’s efforts, the media coalition of over 35 national and international outlets worked with all parties throughout the trial: judge, prosecution and defense. The trial could hardly have been more historic – State of Minnesota vs. Derek Michael Chauvin. Coordinating media across such a wide spectrum – broadcast, radio, print with local, state, national and international audiences in mind – took knowledge of the law and the public’s need for public information to hold its government accountable for actions taken. Walker’s tactful and tireless efforts kept all parties informed and in agreement while maintaining respectful relationships with the judiciary.

MNCOGI is pleased to announce recipients of this year’s John R. Borger Lifetime Achievement Award: 

James Barnum, Deputy General Counsel for Hubbard Broadcasting, has worked steadfastly for over three decades to provide legal support and advice enabling journalists to do their jobs in ensuring government transparency and holding officials accountable.  Even as they encountered resistance seeking records in the face of emerging technologies (such as last century’s cell phones) and overcoming sympathetic parties who sought to close off investigatory files. Journalists could rely upon Barnum to support their efforts to obtain public records and protect the public’s right to know time and time again. 

Online Award ceremony will be held on Wednesday, March 16th, 7 pm.

Click Here to register in advance for this free webinar.

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 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.

2019 John R. Finnegan FOI Award Ceremony Announcement


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

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.

Support government transparency on Give To The Max Day

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) is an education and advocacy organization that supports government transparency in the State of Minnesota.  Through public forums, citizen education, and legislative advocacy, MNCOGI helps to ensure that the public has robust access to information about the workings of its government institutions.

On Thursday, November 15th, MNCOGI will be participating in “Give To The Max Day” through GiveMN.org.  The funds we raise help to support our annual activities, including our yearly presentation of the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award, and our ongoing efforts to ensure the transparency and accountability of Minnesota government. 

In 2018, we hosted public panel discussions on issues ranging from legislative secrecy and sexual harassment, to the role of secrecy in the selection of the University of Minnesota’s president.  MNCOGI also supported numerous transparency proposals during the 2018 Minnesota legislative session, as we do every year.

MNCOGI’s 2017 financials are available on our web site, as is extensive documentation about the transparency policy work we’ve been involved with at the Minnesota Legislature.

You can donate to MNCOGI via our page on the GiveMN website.


2018 Candidate survey results available now

In September, we asked candidates for Minnesota state offices to answer seven questions related to government transparency on issues that are of great concern to Minnesotans. The poll, intended to inform the voting public, was sent to all candidates for the Minnesota Legislature as well as to candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor. Now you can follow this link  bit.ly/2018-mn-transparency-results to see candidates’ responses and also see which candidates did not respond. We invite you to share the results with Minnesota voters. And we urge you to continue to ask candidates about the questions posed in the survey. You also can ask any who did not complete the survey to do so now; we will leave it open through October.

Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, working in partnership on the survey with the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Articles and Opinions Regarding This Survey

2018 Open Government Candidate Survey Press Release

This Press Release is available for download as a PDF.


SEPTEMBER 11, 2018


Are candidates for Minnesota state offices committed to government transparency so that citizens can hold elected officials accountable? We asked them in a poll sponsored by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information and the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The seven questions in the poll speak to issues that have been of great concern to Minnesotans. The questions, listed below, were sent to all candidates for the Minnesota Legislature as well as to candidates for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and auditor.

“We are very concerned that Minnesota’s public institutions, once known as models of good government, have become less transparent and increasingly willing to deny the public timely and critical public information” said Gary Hill, Chair of the MNCOGI Board of Directors.  “All of the other issues that are important to voters depend on transparency,,” said Board Member Sharon Schmickle. “When government operates in secret, voters can’t be sure how candidates truly will stand on critical issues.”

Poll responses will be distributed before the November election to media organizations for use in news stories and opinion pieces about candidate stances on issues. Non-responses to the full questionnaire or to any individual questions will be reported as well.

MNCOGI and the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists urge voters to contact the candidates and ask them to participate in the poll. Further, voters could pose the same questions directly to the candidates in person and at  campaign events.

In conjunction with the poll, MNCOGI is making available to the public a spreadsheet of contact information for candidates of this year’s general election races in Minnesota. This spreadsheet, containing public data provided by the Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State, is available online at bit.ly/2018-mn-candidates .


Here are the poll questions:

  • Do you support prohibiting state government from requiring non-disclosure agreements in settlements of alleged sexual harassment and other misconduct of legislators or employees?
  • Do you support making public any House or Senate ethics committee reports on investigations of the conduct of members?
  • Do you support making the Legislature subject to the open meetings and open records laws that currently apply to counties, cities, school districts and other government bodies?
  • Do you support making police body cam video as public as squad car camera videos which are more accessible to the public?
  • Do you support the currently allowed use of cameras in Minnesota court rooms?
  • Do you support requiring that government emails be preserved beyond the current minimal limits?
  • Would you support strengthening the economic interest statements filed by public officials, bringing them in line with most other states – for example adopting the requirement they disclose household financial information beyond the direct earnings and holdings of the public official?



Gary Hill


Sharon Schmickle

MNCOGI endorsed bills/concepts for 2018 Legislative Session

• HF 3258; HF 3259; HF 2309/SF 1589 – Implementing recommendations of the Data Practices Commission
HF 3258 and HF 3259 improve auditing for license plate readers and body-worn cameras by requiring audits to be conducted by an independent, third-party vendor.  HF 2309/SF 1589 clarify reporting requirements related to the use of location tracking warrants.

• HF 1185/SF 1719 – Three-year e-mail retention
Removes references to “official” records and reconciles the language of 15.17 and 138.17 with Chapter 13 (the Data Practices Act). The Minnesota Supreme Court’s reading of the word “official” in Minn. Stat. 15.17 (in the Kottscahde v. Lundberg opinion) has been used to narrow the types of records that must be retained by government entities. The effect of the proposed change would be to require that all government data be placed on a retention schedule that specifies the length of time it must be maintained for. Recently, some government entities (including the City of Saint Paul and Hennepin County) have started to destroy e-mails that contain data useful for government oversight.  A three-year retention period for government correspondence (including e-mail) is established.

• HF 1105/SF 1715 – Change to the Open Meeting Law
In 2016, the Saint Paul School Board sought to hold “collaborative problem solving” meetings in private, outside of the coverage of Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law – meaning that the public could not attend the sessions. The school district sought – and secured – an advisory opinion allowing the private meetings to occur, so long as “official business” was not discussed.  The Minneapolis School Board has followed suit, and closed one “leadership development” session to the public in 2017. Out of concern that these private sessions may be abused, MNCOGI seeks to amend Minnesota’s Open Meeting Law to ensure that the public is granted access to gatherings of a quorum or more members of a governing body.

• HF 1316 – Government cannot use “personnel data” exception to limit access to otherwise public video
Amends Minnesota Statutes 13.43 to specify that certain video recordings of government employees continue to be public data even when classified as “personnel data.”  The bill is a response to the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in the KSTP TV v. Metropolitan Council case.

• HF 2065/SF 1517 – Permitting access to certain HMO quality of care records by complainant
Amends the HMO quality of care investigation statute to ensure access by the complainant to records of resolved complaints.

• HF 857/SF 817 – Data Practices Commission to study expanding access to legislative records
Directing the Data Practices Commission to study the possibility of establishing an open records framework for the Minnesota Legislature.

• HF 2954; HF 1065/SF 1393 – Legislative open records framework
Open records frameworks established for the Minnesota Legislature, including amending the Data Practices Act.

• MNCOGI supports the Rep. Lesch/Rep. O’Neill proposal to change the House rules as they relate to investigations of sexual harassment
MNCOGI supports the public reporting and public process provisions of the procedural changes to the House rules proposed by Reps. Lesch and O’Neill.

• MNCOGI encourages legislators to work to improve enforcement of the Data Practices Act

MNCOGI testimony in support of HF 1517


Minnesota Senate Judiciary, February 26, 2018

Testimony in support of HF 1517

Thank you Mr. Chairman and Senators.  Matt Ehling, Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.  I am testifying in support of SF 1517, and will limit my comments to technical aspects of the amendment language.

The main point we would like to raise about the bill as amended, is that provisions of this bill have similarities and analogs to other, existing provisions of law.

1)  To begin, the bill would require HMOs to provide certain data – specifically, records about the resolution of quality of care complaints – to the Department of Health.  Under the current statute, HMOs are required to maintain records about these complaints, but they only have to provide statistical summaries about the complaints to the Commissioner.  Under SF 1517, providing records about the resolution of complaints would also be mandatory.

I would note that mandatory data production is not at all unusual in the current relationship between HMOs and their state regulators.  Mandatory reporting is already part of the information management reality for HMOs under Chapter 62D, as well as under Minnesota Statutes 256B.69.  Under 62D.08, HMO entities are already required to report a wide variety of information to the Department of Health, including financials, enrollment numbers, and performance information.  Under 256B.69, HMOs must report additional data to the Department of Human Services, including administrative expense reporting, data on client satisfaction, and service utilization.  So the requirement in this bill that HMOs vest quality of care complaint records with the Commissioner of Health is neither unusual or novel.

2)  Secondly, I would like to speak to the data classification status of the record provided under this bill.  The bill would classify the record provided to the Commissioner as either  “confidential” or “protected nonpublic” data, but the bill also provides an exception to that classification.  The exception is that the individual who made the complaint can access certain parts of the record.

For background, “confidential” and “protected nonpublic” status are data classifications under Minnesota law that are routinely applied to sensitive data, such as investigative data.  For example, criminal investigative is classified as “confidential” or “protected nonpublic” while the investigation is active.  These classifications mean that only the government entity holding the data can access the data.  As I’ve noted, this bill provides an exception to that protected status, by allowing the complainant to access certain parts of the record.

This exception would not be unique, however, as there are other exceptions to “confidential” and “protected nonpublic” data elsewhere in Minnesota law.  For example, there are statutory provisions in the criminal, human rights, and licensing contexts that provide government entities with the ability to release confidential data for specific purposes, as allowed by statute.  In the criminal investigative context, for instance, investigative data can be released to crime victims in certain instances, and law enforcement agencies are permitted to release confidential data to promote public safety.  Access exceptions to the general treatment of confidential data have been added by the legislature over time, to promote specific public policy goals.

3)  Finally, I would like to speak to the mechanics of how redactions would work under this bill.  The bill states that “the commissioner shall assure that all parts of the record that do not identify individuals” are accessible to the complainant, meaning that such individual data would need to be redacted before the record is presented to the complainant.  It is long-standing practice under Minnesota’s Data Practices Act for government entities to make redactions to protected data before disseminating.

The most relevant point of comparison here is to how Minnesota law treats proprietary business data held by government entities – what is called “trade secret” data under Chapter 13.  When government entities receive trade secret data from private companies, they have a legal obligation to evaluate the data, and to apply any necessary redactions before releasing the data in any form.  Under Chapter 13, it is the responsibility of the government entity to make redactions.

Similarly, as contemplated by this bill, redactions to the record would be handled by the government entity, and they would be applied to obscure the identify of any named individuals within the record.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak in favor of the bill today, and I would be happy to speak to any questions you may have.

MNCOGI to discuss government transparency issues for the 2018 legislative session

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) will discuss government transparency issues for the 2018 session on March 2nd at 10:00am in room 181 of the Minnesota State Office Building.

During the press event, MNCOGI will provide a venue for current and former elected officials to discuss the importance of government transparency.  Speakers will include current Saint Paul City Council member Jane Prince, former Minneapolis City Council member Paul Ostrow, and former Minneapolis School Board member Carla Bates.

Ms. Prince will speak in opposition to a legislative initiative put forward by the City of Woodbury that seeks to put an end to the free inspection of government data under Minnesota’s open records law.  Currently, the state’s Data Practices Act permits individuals to view requested data at no charge, while also permitting government entities to charge fees for copies if copies are requested.

Mr. Ostrow and Ms. Bates will speak to the importance of elected officials maintaining transparency in government operations, and will also highlight problems they have encountered as private citizens in seeking government information.

MNCOGI board member (and former IPAD director) Don Gemberling will discuss MNCOGI’s policy priorities for 2018, including improved retention for government e-mail, improvements to the Open Meeting Law, and related matters.

WHERE:  Minnesota State Office Building Room 181 (1st floor press conference room)

WHEN:  March 2, 10:00am-10:30am

CONTACT:  MNCOGI spokesman Don Gemberling (651-699-6553)