City of Bloomington Fails to Comply with “Unambiguous” Open Government Law Alleges Civil Suit
The City of Bloomington has violated multiple state laws in regards to transparency and openness of government alleges a suit by public records investigator Tony Webster. Most severe of the allegations against the City, which was responsible for policing the recent Black Lives Matter protests at the Mall of America, includes that staff intentionally deleted data responsive to legitimate public records requests as well as other illegal obstructionism and has failed to uphold Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) obligations.
The matter will appear in court before Judge Laurie Miller for oral arguments on October 28th.
The MGDPA is in essence a local version of the Freedom of Information Act. The Act enables similar records requests and provides transparency and accountability in government and is a tool that empowers journalists and others to inform the public on a wide variety of issues.
Webster requested information from the City of Bloomington, starting in February of this year, on the law enforcement response to the Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. Key to his case is that the request was for electronic documentation with associated file and system meta-data attached.
The “startling admission,” that the City of Bloomington, “intentionally altered and deleted responsive data between Webster’s first and second inspections,” would amount to an egregious violation of MGDPA. That shocking fact is not the only well reasoned objection to the purported actions of the City in denying the release of information pursuant to the lawful data request.
The City allegedly violated MGDPA by expressly denying and repeatedly telling Webster that it had no obligation to allow him to inspect “responsive meta-data.” Furthermore, due to several problems (that may show further obstructionism), full access to meta-data during inspections was not possible. The deletion of data is paramount to the coming debate but these other issues merit a great deal of discussion as well. We will continue to follow this case.