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Advisory Opinion 00-030

August 1, 2000; City of Greenwood

8/1/2000 10:16:43 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 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 June 8, 2000, IPA received a letter from Jo Anna Bame. In this letter, Ms. Bame asked the Commissioner to issue an advisory opinion regarding her right to gain access to certain data maintained by the City of Greenwood.

In response to Ms. Bame's request, IPA, on behalf of the Commissioner, wrote to Sandra R. Langley, an employee of the City of Deephaven, who provides administrative services to Greenwood under contract. The purposes of this letter, dated June 12, 2000, were to inform her of Ms. Bame's request and to ask her to provide information or support for the City's position. On June 23, 2000, IPA received a response from Mark W. Kelly, attorney for Greenwood. A summary of the facts of this matter follows.

On May 24, 2000, Ms. Bame asked Ms. Langley for a copy of the minutes of the May 2, 2000, Greenwood City Council meeting. According to Ms. Bame, Ms. Langley told her that the minutes had not been typed. Ms. Bame stated that a contractor prepares the Greenwood City Council minutes, and [i]n other cities for which [the contractor] prepares minutes, a print out is available immediately after the meeting.

In a telephone call to the City on Friday, June 2, 2000, Ms. Bame again requested a copy of the May 2nd Council meeting minutes. When she arrived at City Hall, she was told that she could not have a copy of the minutes but that she could review them in Ms. Langley's presence.

In his response to the Commissioner, Mr. Kelly stated that the contractor is hired to take notes from which the City Clerk prepares the minutes. According to Mr. Kelly, on May 24, 2000, there were no minutes of the May 2nd Council meeting in existence. He wrote further:

Similarly, on June 2nd the Minutes were in draft form and had yet to be approved by the City Council. Typically, amendments are proposed at the City council meeting and, if adopted, the proposed text is then amended and added to the official Minutebook. Because proposed Minutes are subject to Council approval, the document was withheld as it did not constitute an official statement of the Minutes of the City council of the City of Greenwood.

Issues:

In her request for an opinion, Ms. Bame asked the Commissioner to address the following issues:

  1. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, did the City of Greenwood respond appropriately to a May 24, 2000, request for access to a copy of the minutes of the May 2, 2000, Greenwood City Council Meeting?
  2. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, did the City of Greenwood respond appropriately to a June 2, 2000, request for access to a copy of the minutes of the May 2, 2000, Greenwood City Council Meeting?

Discussion:

Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, section 13.03, subdivision 1, government data are presumed to be public unless otherwise classified by state or federal law.

Ms. Bame was under the impression that the contractor prepares the City Council minutes for Greenwood. According to Mr. Kelly, this is not the case; the minutes are prepared by the City Clerk, who uses the contractor's notes in their preparation. Mr. Kelly stated that the minutes had not yet been prepared at the time of Ms. Bame's initial request. Thus, the City was not obligated to provide access to data that did not exist at the time of the request.

Mr. Kelly stated that at the time of Ms. Bame's second request for a copy of the minutes, on June 2, 2000, they were in draft form. The City allowed her to view the minutes but refused her a copy. The Commissioner addressed a similar issue in Advisory Opinion 94-026:

The preliminary minutes of a meeting of a public body, like the park board of a city, are created by the secretary or other person assigned that task by the body. As they are data in some physical form, that is created by an agent of a government entity, they are government data for purposes of Chapter 13. The Commissioner is not aware of any Minnesota statute or federal law that classifies preliminary notes of a meeting as anything other than public data. These notes fall within the presumption of Minnesota Statutes Section 13.03, subdivision 1, that all government data are presumed to be public.

Often government entities are reluctant to release items like preliminary minutes because a review of the minutes of a previous meeting by participants at the next public meeting may reveal some inaccuracy in the minutes that will be corrected by amendment. However, this reasonable concern should not be handled by denying the public access to the preliminary minutes. The reasonable concern for accuracy can be handled by stamping or marking the preliminary minutes with appropriate notations to the effect that they are preliminary, are not final and have not yet been reviewed by the body for possible correction and amendment.

Accordingly, the City ought to have provided Ms. Bame with a copy of the May 2, 2000, Council meeting minutes at the time of her June 2, 2000, request.


Opinion:

Based on the facts and information provided, my opinion on the issues raised by Ms. Bame is as follows:

  1. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, the City of Greenwood responded appropriately to a May 24, 2000, request for access to a copy of the minutes of the May 2, 2000, Greenwood City Council Meeting, as the minutes did not exist at the time of the request.
  2. Pursuant to Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 13, the City of Greenwood did not respond appropriately to a June 2, 2000, request for access to a copy of the minutes of the May 2, 2000, Greenwood City Council Meeting. Draft minutes are public data, pursuant to section 13.03, subdivision 1, and the City should have provided a copy to the requestor.

Signed:

David F. Fisher
Commissioner

Dated: August 1, 2000


Response to data requests

Draft documents

Minutes, personal notes

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