This is an opinion of the Commissioner of Administration issued pursuant to section 13.072 of Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13 - the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. It is based on the facts and information available to the Commissioner as described below.
Facts and Procedural History:
For purposes of simplification, the information presented by the person who requested this opinion and the response from the government entity with which the person disagrees are presented in summary form. Copies of the complete submissions are on file at the offices of IPA and, except for any data classified as not public, are available for public access.
On October 20, 2000, Mike Herbst sent an email to "firstname.lastname@example.org" requesting four different data elements. Mr. Herbst had received this email address by calling the secretary to the superintendent of School District 270 (Hopkins) and asking for the name, email and fax number of "the individual in charge of information dissemination to [sic] the district." The data elements he requested were: (1) "the districts [sic] data retention list;" (2) teacher and administrator turnover rates for the last seven years; (3) the number of teachers and administrators previously employed by District 276; and (4) the administrator in charge of the information requested.
When Mr. Herbst did not receive a response to his October 20, 2000 email, he forwarded the message to the superintendent of Hopkins on November 3, 2000. It is not possible to tell what email address was used for the November 3, 2000 email because it does not display in the copy of the email forwarded by Mr. Herbst. Mr. Herbst has not received a response to either email.
On November 21, 2000, Mr. Herbst asked the Commissioner of Administration to issue an advisory opinion about the appropriateness of Hopkins's response to his request for data.
On December 1, 2000, Donald Gemberling of the Information Policy Analysis Division sent a letter to Mr. Michael Kremer, the superintendent of Hopkins, informing him of Mr. Herbst's request and offering Hopkins the opportunity to respond.
On December 19, 2000, a response was received from Karen Janisch, attorney for Hopkins. In her response, Ms. Janisch provided a copy of the records retention schedule as Mr. Herbst had not provided his mailing address; indicated that Mr. Herbst had spoken with Dr. Ross Moen of Hopkins on an unspecified date after October 20, 2000 and that Dr. Moen had indicated that turnover and previous employment data did not exist; and that the request for the name of the administrator was vague as most of the data were not maintained. No further explanation of Hopkins's handling of this data request was offered.
In his request for an opinion, Mr. Herbst asked the Commissioner to address the following issue:
In this instance, it seems best to address each data element requested by Mr. Herbst and evaluate Hopkins's response. The first data element is for Hopkins's "data retention list." Although Hopkins has provided a copy of the records retention schedule as part of its response to the request for an advisory opinion, the only explanation it offers for doing so is that Mr. Herbst did not provide an address to which it could be mailed.
It is difficult to understand why Hopkins believes that it had no obligation to forward the records retention schedule to Mr. Herbst. It is not as if Hopkins had no way to communicate with Mr. Herbst. They could have sent him an email asking for his address or they could have asked him for his address during his conversation with Dr. Moen. Hopkins has not responded appropriately to this first data request.
The second and third requests are for data about turnover rates and Hopkins employees who were previously employed in District 276. Dr. Moen did provide a response to Mr. Herbst during their telephone conversation and indicated that the data did not exist. While a written response is not required by the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, it is a good business practice to document responses to data requests to prevent future disputes. Hopkins did respond appropriately to the second and third requests.
The fourth request was for the name of the administrator in charge of the data requested. Hopkins has indicated that the request was "vague." If a government entity does not understand a request for data, it should ask for a clarification. If Hopkins did not want to request clarification, the appropriate response would have been that there was no administrator because the data were not maintained. By failing to respond at all, Hopkins has not responded appropriately.
According to Minnesota Statutes, sections 13.03, subdivision 2 and 13.05, subdivision 8, government entities such as Hopkins are required to have procedures in place to respond to requests for access to government data. It appears that no such procedures are in place as Mr. Herbst did not receive a uniform response to his October 20, 2000 request for data. Model policies and procedures are available for Hopkins to use. One set is available from the Minnesota School Boards Association and another has been developed by the Department of Administration and is available on the Web at www.ipad.state.mn.us. Hopefully, these will be of assistance to Hopkins.
In summary, Hopkins did respond appropriately to two of the data requests and did not respond appropriately to the other two.
Based on the facts and information provided, my opinion on the issue raised by Mr. Herbst is as follows:
Dated: January 5, 2001