BLM protest at the Mall of America, 2014 (photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

(Photo: Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune)

In 2015, Tony Webster sued the city of Bloomington when it didn't hand over everything he'd asked for related to a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. Webster, whose records fights factor in my Sunday story on rising government secrecy, is a self-described "data nerd" who understands that you learn as much from "metadata" than from the record itself - for example, the timing and recipients of an email, or whether a document has been revised 10 times on a certain day.

After some initial publicity, the lawsuit faded from view. Not long ago, I found out why. The city and Webster reached a settlement in April 2016 that restricted either side from talking about it. The city of Bloomington provided it to me after I made a data practices request.

In exchange for Webster dismissing the suit, the city agreed to have its insurer pay $45,000 for a new nonprofit founded by Webster to promote transparency in state and local government in Minnesota. The gag order was unusually blunt in its goal of keeping it all hush-hush: "To the extent permissible by law, the City agrees not to affirmatively disseminate the details of the settlement agreement or make public statements regarding the settlement."

Here's what it allows Webster to say: "My City of Bloomington litigation has settled. The City's insurer has agreed to make a contribution to my data access non-profit."

Here's what it allows the city to say: "The City and Mr, Webster have reached a settlement and the City's insurer has agreed to make a contribution to Mr, Webster's data access non-profit."

It seems weird to put a gag order in a settlement that's all about open government. Neither the city nor Webster are legally allowed to explain it.

Webster tweeted on Sunday that he believes in transparency and has put all the pleadings online.

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