Timely, accurate communication between the public and government is critical.
The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act was developed to ensure that the public has access to government information while balancing an individual data subject’s right to privacy. As a city, we must balance these two underlying goals of the act. In doing so, we are committed to transparency and to providing the public with information that is both expeditious and accurate. We are committed to protecting the legal privacy of individuals, including our employees. We are also committed to building valuable partnerships with our local media in recognition of the critical importance of local journalism to our community.
The city of Duluth receives thousands of data requests every year; in recent years, the number of requests has gone up significantly. Some data requests are easy to respond to and do not require a lot of staff time to compile, and the requested data can be delivered without delay. In other instances, the data is complex and voluminous, needs to be reviewed individually, and needs significant redaction before it can be released. This process takes time and city resources. All data requests have to be evaluated individually.
Requests for information about city employees can be particularly challenging. Six different unions represent various city employees, with six different collective bargaining agreements, or CBAs. How an employee’s discipline or grievance is handled is dictated by the CBA of the union to which the employee belongs. When and how various data are protected and when and how they are public depend on, among other things, the employee’s status, which depends on the relevant CBA. Every request for data about a city employee must be reviewed based on the employee’s employment or grievance status; different requests that look the same to the requester often require very different analyses.
We understand it is imperative that requests for information get answered, that those requests get answered as quickly as can reasonably be expected and within legal time limits, and that the information provided is accurate.
There is always opportunity to improve, and we want to make it clear we are committed to doing just that: improving. City staff members hold themselves to a high standard, and the community should as well.
We are deeply honored to serve this community that we all call home, and we look forward to continuing our work together.
Noah Schuchman is the chief administrative officer for the city of Duluth, Rebecca St. George is city attorney, and Chelsea Helmer is director of administrative services.