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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Erik's Reaction

On Wednesday the Pioneer Press ran a major front page story about Maplewood, with particular focus on the tenure of former City Manager Copeland and the financial issues from his time in office that have since been coming to light.

The morning that the article appeared, a flood of e-mailed Data Practices requests started coming from Councilmember Hjelle. At last count, I think I saw 24 separate e-mails. (It's worth noting that Mr. Hjelle has in the past been known to rant about how much staff time is, in his view, wasted responding to Data Practices requests.)

For an example, here is his first e-mail in the series:

From: Erik Hjelle [mailto:erikhjelle@yahoo.com]

Sent: Wed 3/26/2008 10:49 AM

To: Chuck Ahl

Cc: Karen Guilfoile; City Council

Subject: Data Request

City Manager Ahl,

I have cc'd these Data requests to include the council and Ms. Guilfoile.

1). I am requesting the entire Telephone data log of internal and external telephone calls made by Mr. Ahl since June 1, 2007.

2). I am requesting every e-mail sent or received by Mr. Ahl since June 1, 2007.

3). I am requesting every e-mail sent or received by any member of the MCSA/Department Head or equivalent, since June 1, 2007.

4). I am requesting copies of Mr. Ahl's day planner, written or computer since January 1, 2008. If Outlook (or similar software) is used, I expect the .pst back-up file in addition to the hard copy.

5). I am requesting the telephone logs of telephone calls made or received from a city telephone, and the home telephone numbers of Councilmembers Rossbach,Councilmember Juenemann, and Mr. Nephew as both a councilmember and private citizen (include Mr. Nephew's home, business lines, and cell) since June 1, 2007. Include ALL business extension lines of Rossbach Construction and Cell Phones. I am sure that Mr. Rossbach and Ms. Juenemann will be happy to provide that information.

Please promptly advise of any concerns or questions that this request may present. As an elected official, I expect that any items considered "private" or "priviledged" will not be excluded. If the City decides to exclude any items, I expect a written explanantion as to why, and dates and times of said document.

I will also advise the city that I will be requesting a forensic audit of the city by an outside body. Any ommissions from this request will be evidenced. I also assume that the City has saved ALL documents in its' possession and will continue to do so.

Erik Hjelle
Maplewood City Council

The scope of these demands is breathtaking.

First of all, let's be clear that the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act does not give Mr. Hjelle access to all the information he is demanding. Being an elected official does not lawfully grant Mr. Hjelle unfettered access to all non-public information that the government may possess. It certainly does not give him the ability to demand information that the government does not possess – such as my personal home, business and cell phone records going back to before I had filed as a candidate for office. (I know he's been reading up on the constitution lately, but perhaps Mr. Hjelle missed the Fourth Amendment?)

You would think that Mr. Hjelle would know this, after two years in office, but it makes one wonder what kind of access to non-public data he may have become accustomed to when Mr. Copeland occupied the city manager's office?

Second, consider the scope of what he is looking for that is public data under the MGDPA. For example, “every e-mail sent or received by any member of the MCSA/Department Head or equivalent, since June 1, 2007.” These individuals deal with a great deal of non-public data – private data about members of the public, private personnel data about city employees, etc.

Let's offer a made-up example. Suppose a city employee needed to take sick days because of a family member's health. The employee may have had to provide a copy of a doctor's note to his or her supervisor in order to justify the sick leave taken. This would be private medical data, and it would be illegal for the city to hand that communication over to Mr. Hjelle.

Fulfilling Mr. Hjelle's sweeping request for “every e-mail” is not as simple as copying a folder from the e-mail server. Appropriate city staff will have to carefully review every single e-mail to determine if any of its content is non-public, and if so to redact that content so as not to violate the Data Practices Act. I'll be interested in knowing how much that staff time costs the city, when all his requests have been filled.


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