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Duluth withdraws data practices resolution

A resolution that would have authorized the city of Duluth to charge people $35 per hour of staff time spent responding to requests for public data has been removed from the July 10 City Council agenda.

An email sent out to Duluth City Council members Friday morning indicated that city administration would request that the resolution be returned to it for further consideration, according to Council President Joel Sipress.

The city proposed charging the $35-per-hour fee for any data request that required more than 15 minutes of staff time to fulfill.

But the prospective fee drew criticism from Duluth News Tribune Publisher Neal Ronquist; Mark Anfinson, legal counsel for the Minnesota Newspaper Association; and Tony Webster, a Twin Cities citizen journalist specializing in public records investigations.

Anfinson said the proposed resolution would contradict advisory opinions previously issued by Minnesota’s Information Policy Analysis Division directing local governments to charge the public no more for data requests than what the lowest-paid government employee capable of providing the information would earn in the span of time required to respond.

At $35 per hour, a full-time employee would earn the equivalent of $72,800 per year.

City Attorney Gunnar Johnson defended the charge Thursday, noting that it included not only wages but also other benefits, such as health care, that city employees receive.

Johnson did not return a call Friday from the Duluth News Tribune, requesting an update on the status of the proposed resolution.