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Advisory Opinion 95-001

January 4, 1995; Dodge County

1/4/1995 10:14:43 AM

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 citizen who requested this opinion and the response from the government entity with which the citizen disagrees are presented in summary form. Copies of the complete submissions are on file at the offices of PIPA and are available for public access.

On December 6, 1994, PIPA received a letter from Mr. Jerry Berg, dated December 2, 1994, in which he described his attempts to gain access to certain personnel data maintained by Dodge County (hereinafter County ), and in which he requested an opinion of the Commissioner on the issue stated in the Issue section below.

Mr. Berg asked the County to provide him with various personnel data concerning a County employee, and asked that the County provide specific data regarding the employee's education background and work experience, including the ...names of institutions and dates listed on application and/or resume.

Mr. Berg received a reply to his request from Mr. Curt Kephart, County Coordinator, in which the employee's educational background was detailed as ...he graduated from high school...and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Urban Studies and Planning. The description of the employee's work history similarly contains no identification of the organizations by which he was employed.

In response to Mr. Berg's request, PIPA, on behalf of the Commissioner, wrote to Mr. Kephart. The purposes of this letter were to inform Mr. Kephart of Mr. Berg's opinion request, to provide a copy of the request to him, to ask Mr. Kephart or the County's attorney to provide information or support for the County's position, and to inform him of the date by which the Commissioner was required to issue this opinion. (In subsequent correspondence, Mr. Berg and Mr. Kephart were notified that the Commissioner would be taking a portion of the additional 30 days allowed by the opinion statute to issue this opinion.)

On December 19, 1994, PIPA received letters of response from Mr. Kephart and Ms. Nancy Vollertsen, an attorney for the County. In his response, Mr. Kephart stated that the County had provided Mr. Berg with the public data he requested, ...including the disclosure of information that demonstrates the qualifications and credentials of applicants and individuals hired for positions. We do not believe that the other specific information requested is public data.

In her response, Ms. Vollertsen stated that the data Mr. Berg requested was provided a summary fashion. It is our position that this comports with the requirements under Minn. Stats. section13.43. There is no specific requirement under this act which requires the degree of specificity which Mr. Berg seeks. He has been attempting to gain information concerning certain Dodge County employees for the purpose of publicly harassing those employees. To provide specific information simply affords Mr. Berg the opportunity to invade the privacy of [the employee]....


Does a member of the public have the right to gain access to government data about a public employee that describe specific institutions of learning attended and specific places of employment?


Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43, subdivision 2, classifies ... education and training background; previous work experience.... on current and former employees as public personnel data. Minnesota Statutes Section 13.43, subdivision 3, classifies ...job history; education and training.... of current and former applicants for public employment as public personnel data. Commissioner's Advisory Opinion 94-022 addressed the issue of whether the level of specificity implied by the statute requires provision of the details Mr. Berg requested, in an instance in which the public sought access to data about applicants for public employment. In that opinion, the Commissioner stated:

The [State University Board] also concludes that the legislature only intends for public entities to reveal generic information about [an] applicant's job history, education and training. This conclusion fails to take into account that the legislature also recognizes a strong public interest in assuring that the public... should have access to as much detailed data as possible in evaluating a public entity's decisions about selecting individuals to fill vacancies. Without detailed information, it would be virtually impossible for the compare the actual qualifications of the candidates. The quality and reputation of the college and university from which an individual receives a degree and the size and complexity of an organization in which an individual previously worked can have a great effect on understanding the entity's personnel and salary decisions. In situations where they (sic) may be allegations of improper selection, access to detailed information about the job histories, education and training of finalists and eligible candidates can help to dispel or reinforce those allegations.

In this instance, the question concerns access to similar data about public employees, rather than applicants, and the public interest in having access to this kind of detailed information is just as critical to government accountability.

As noted above, Ms. Vollertsen suggested that Mr. Berg has sought the data in question in order to publicly harass and otherwise invade the privacy of County employees. The County appears to argue that it has grounds to deny access to public data on the basis of its anticipation that the data will be used in a manner to which it objects. However, the legislature has specifically determined the classification of data about public employees, and has further established the fundamental information policy principle that in general, no restrictions may be imposed upon the public's use of public government data. (See Minnesota Statutes Section 13.03, subdivision 1, and Minnesota Rules, Section 1205.0300, subpart 2.) Government entities may not restrict access to public government data because they object to potential uses of the data.


Based on the correspondence in this matter, my opinion on the issue raised by Mr. Berg is as follows:
A member of the public has the right to gain access to government data about a public employee that describe specific institutions of learning attended and specific places of employment.


Robert A. Schroeder
Acting Commissioner

Dated: January 4, 1995

Legislative authority and intent

Personnel data

Access to actual data

Public data, no restrictions on use

Education/training background, job history, previous work experience

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