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James Eli Shiffer

Columnist and team leader | Watchdog and data team
phone: 612-673-4116
James Eli Shiffer writes the Full Disclosure column and supervises the watchdog and data team. Shiffer joined the Star Tribune in 2005. A native of Scarsdale, N.Y., Shiffer previously worked at The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. He holds a bachelor's degree in English from Wesleyan University in Connecticut.
Recent content from James Eli Shiffer
The fuzzy line between dissent and disruption, even for courts

The fuzzy line between dissent and disruption, even for courts

Anyone doubting the power of protest should study the shutdown of the Minneapolis Board of Education meeting on Jan. 12. The board was poised to…
What happened to the artwork at Thomas Lowry Elementary?

What happened to the artwork at Thomas Lowry Elementary?

Lowell Ludford can still see himself as a schoolboy at Thomas Lowry Elementary in northeast Minneapolis, gazing at the canvasses in heavy oak frames that…
YouTube 'dancing baby' video with Prince music births long-term legal battle

YouTube 'dancing baby' video with Prince music births long-term legal battle

The “dancing baby” of YouTube fame turned 10 years old last month, and he much prefers classical music to Prince. Yet Holden Lenz’s few moments…
Hunting mishap in Meeker County clouded by secrecy

Hunting mishap in Meeker County clouded by secrecy

Dale Fenrich keeps a shotgun slug on the desk of his insurance office in Litchfield, Minn. It’s the one doctors took out of his upper…
Lawyers in concussion case want to unseal NHL records

Lawyers in concussion case want to unseal NHL records

Former players are suing the league in Minneapolis over the brain damage they suffered.
Legacy of a 'miscreant' Minnesota newsman

Legacy of a 'miscreant' Minnesota newsman

Eight decades after the death of a reckless newspaperman named Jay Near, his phantom keeps popping up in courthouses across America. The landmark 1931 U.S.…

Outrage grows over federal data breach

Patrick Munro knew the letter might be coming, but it still ticked him off. A “malicious cyber intrusion” at a federal agency had resulted in…
Reading wins, censorship loses in Rosemount schools

Reading wins, censorship loses in Rosemount schools

A mother and father in Rosemount were alarmed by what their 11-year-old daughter brought home from school: A novel about how a one-day fling in…
CryptoParty teaches how to evade online spies

CryptoParty teaches how to evade online spies

On a recent Saturday morning in an otherwise deserted office building in Roseville, two dozen software developers gathered for a crash course on roaming the…

The risks of Minnesota's 'secret police' law

The actions of undercover officers investigating prostitution in Minneapolis were, in a judge’s words, “outrageous government conduct”: naked encounters that went much further than necessary…
E-mail purge threatens open government in St. Paul

E-mail purge threatens open government in St. Paul

In the name of efficiency, a huge volume of public records in St. Paul have gone poof. The mass purge in August of 40 percent…
"We, the weird people": Petitioning the White House

"We, the weird people": Petitioning the White House

Judging by the most popular petitions filed with the White House, extraditing dentist Walter Palmer to Zimbabwe is among Americans' top demands of President Obama.
Feb. 15: Road project on edge of Lake Minnetonka disturbs ancient grave

Feb. 15: Road project on edge of Lake Minnetonka disturbs ancient grave

As heavy machinery scraped the site of a highway project near Lake Minnetonka, something unusual turned up in the dirt: quarter-sized fragments of bone. That…
Shiffer: Data on Minnesota cyberattacks hidden from public

Shiffer: Data on Minnesota cyberattacks hidden from public

Information tends to emerge only when something goes wrong. Until that happens, anyone trying to find out about the security of the government's IT systems quickly runs into a firewall of secrecy.
Wayward barrel left in Minneapolis alley remains a toxic enigma

Wayward barrel left in Minneapolis alley remains a toxic enigma

Just like the red stains etched in the pavement, the mystery of the leaking barrel of acid remains an irritant for a north Minneapolis neighborhood.…
Minnesota blogger sued for defamation finds it all a learning experience

Minnesota blogger sued for defamation finds it all a learning experience

St. Paul blogger who questioned the success of the "Trivedi Effect" for years is defending himself from a suit that has taken some remarkable turns.
Tiny tract of land slips away in Minnesota mine country

Tiny tract of land slips away in Minnesota mine country

Richard Cavalier has never set foot on his tiny plot of land in northeast Minnesota. It’s smaller than a basketball court, can’t be reached by…
FCC still on hunt for indecent and profane on TV

FCC still on hunt for indecent and profane on TV

For all the brouhaha over filth on the airwaves, the number of complaints to the FCC about obscenity and indecency has actually plummeted, from 1.4 million in the year of Janet Jackson in 2004 to a mere 1,003 last year, FCC data show.
Driven out of her Lutheran church, woman wants a judge to step in

Driven out of her Lutheran church, woman wants a judge to step in

LaVonne Pfeil is pursuing a defamation suit against her church in Worthington. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the argument.
Kicked out of war zone, former correspondent opens new front

Kicked out of war zone, former correspondent opens new front

The video that ended Wayne Anderson’s career as a war correspondent lasts one minute and 49 seconds. The public hasn’t been able to see it…
The portal to the dark Web

The portal to the dark Web

For a few days this month, a little library in New England ignited an outsized squabble between law enforcement and civil libertarians. The Lebanon, N.H.,…
After 32 years, mystery persists in death of rebel priest in Central America

After 32 years, mystery persists in death of rebel priest in Central America

The letter to a Minnesota senator from the CIA expressed regret. The nation’s storied intelligence agency was at a loss to explain how the Rev.…
'Little Books' cause big flap in Minneapolis

'Little Books' cause big flap in Minneapolis

After an uprising by teachers, the Minneapolis schools have expelled “Lazy Lucy” and “Nieko, the Hunting Girl.” A Utah education company is making sure they…
In wake of Ashley Madison hack, the ironies abound

In wake of Ashley Madison hack, the ironies abound

It’s still a crime for a woman to cheat on her husband in Minnesota. The law against adultery hasn’t been enforced in 80 years or…
Camera ban lifted, slightly, in Minnesota courts

Camera ban lifted, slightly, in Minnesota courts

Equipping police officers with body cameras has been called a crucial step toward restoring their battered image. Politicians and police chiefs alike say the video…
Records sought by advocacy group reveal fate of U research dog

Records sought by advocacy group reveal fate of U research dog

In a University of Minnesota laboratory last year, a dog identified only as 14CC4 gave its life for science — specifically, research into grafting blood…
Canadian teen sentenced after "swatting," "doxxing" across North America

Canadian teen sentenced after "swatting," "doxxing" across North America

Through his computer in a suburb of Vancouver, the Canadian teenager carried out a yearlong campaign of harassment and mayhem across North America. He targeted…
Oldest FOIA requests: 20 years, and still waiting

Oldest FOIA requests: 20 years, and still waiting

It’s hard to fathom the threat to national security hidden in the files of Vietnam War-era Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Earle Wheeler. Or records…
Anti-hacking bill pits privacy against security

Anti-hacking bill pits privacy against security

To stop hackers from violating your privacy, the government wants help from big business. Specifically, it wants more information about their vast customer databases, and…
Minnesota Legislature exempted itself from sunshine law

Minnesota Legislature exempted itself from sunshine law

Sen. John Marty knows his bill calling for more openness at the Legislature isn’t going anywhere this year. He introduced it at Friday’s special session…

How did Minnesota's criminal defamation statute hang around 52 years?

The law, which usually dealt with revolting speech, criminalized even true statements, if they were delivered with malevolent intent.
Access to Minnesota government data can improve

Access to Minnesota government data can improve

But despite collecting more information than ever before, most of government handles it the old-fashioned way. You have to ask for it. Then you wait.
'Adopters' take up the cause of research dogs in Minnesota and beyond

'Adopters' take up the cause of research dogs in Minnesota and beyond

The people hoping to adopt research dogs from the University of Minnesota know them only by code numbers: 14AC2, 12AC1, 14CC4 and so on. They…
Years after 9/11 attacks, 28 pages are still blank

Years after 9/11 attacks, 28 pages are still blank

In the public report of Congress' investigation of the 9/11 attacks, something strange happens after page 395. The words disappear, replaced by blank lines that…
Behind bars, a news camera ban in Minnesota

Behind bars, a news camera ban in Minnesota

A media policy spelled out in February prohibits any photography or videography, reversing a previous rule that allowed inmates, with the approval of the Department of Corrections (DOC), to grant on-camera interviews.
Despite open data law, Dakota County closes ranks after official's firing

Despite open data law, Dakota County closes ranks after official's firing

Nearly a month has passed since the Dakota County commissioners fired the county’s longtime community development director. The public still doesn’t know why. No one…
On Sunshine Week, a salute to data sharers

On Sunshine Week, a salute to data sharers

Today marks the start of Sunshine Week, the annual exercise in chasing away the shadows of government secrecy. It’s observed by citizens examining public records,…
Chanhassen man fined for lying about an election

Chanhassen man fined for lying about an election

With his legal appeals exhausted, Bonn Clayton knows the time has come to write a $600 check. That’s the penalty for lying about an election.…
E-mail privacy belongs to government, not you

E-mail privacy belongs to government, not you

The law says the public has the right to read most of the government's e-mail, because open records are critical to democracy.The law also says…
Full disclosure: Why hide the camera's ugly truth?

Full disclosure: Why hide the camera's ugly truth?

After a grand jury exonerated police in a fatal shooting last February on Hwy. 212, the dash cam video became public. Except for the moment that the fatal shots were fired.
Inching toward a last call for the White Pages

Inching toward a last call for the White Pages

Minnesota still requires phone companies to deliver a printed copy of the residential listings to its customers every year. That could change as soon as this spring.
Another toxic villain rides into the sunset

Another toxic villain rides into the sunset

By the end of this year, PFOA, a major category of perfluorochemicals, will join PCBs, chlorofluorocarbons and leaded gasoline in the graveyard of chemical villains that we once loved.
HUD owes you money? See if you can get it

HUD owes you money? See if you can get it

Thomas Owens thinks he would have remembered if the government owed him $3,772. Yet more than 20 years after he paid off his federally backed…
Farmers to EPA: Don't tell activists where we are

Farmers to EPA: Don't tell activists where we are

In making their case for privacy, livestock farmers paint a menacing picture of what can happen when people know how to find them. Drones with…
Reporter's curiosity gets the FBI's attention

Reporter's curiosity gets the FBI's attention

In these strange times, merely asking what the government is doing can get you a file at the FBI. That’s what I learned earlier this…

Full Disclosure: Search for Mound housing info turns into comedy of errors

My saga begins way, way back in April, when I came across a 2013 list of “troubled” public housing authorities nationwide. Only one Minnesota agency…
Rescue effort hopes to head off extinction of Minnesota butterflies

Rescue effort hopes to head off extinction of Minnesota butterflies

The Minnesota Zoo's experiment to create an "insurance population" of Dakota skippers represent a small but heroic effort to counterbalance whatever is killing them in the wild.
Ditch-mapping mission by drone has FAA's OK

Ditch-mapping mission by drone has FAA's OK

Tim Briggs said he's the first commercial drone operator in Minnesota to get permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Body in shed is a rare 'John Doe' in Minnesota

Body in shed is a rare 'John Doe' in Minnesota

Advances in DNA, the electronic trail of social media and a concerted national effort to match missing persons reports with unidentified remains have solved mystery after mystery, often within hours.
Price of naming rights to Saints ballpark an unnameable topic

Price of naming rights to Saints ballpark an unnameable topic

Buffeted by a cold October breeze, the banner on the construction fence still says “Lowertown Ballpark Opening May 2015.” Workers are too busy welding steel…
Full Disclosure: How to report an exploding casserole dish

Full Disclosure: How to report an exploding casserole dish

Casserole dishes that shatter into flying fragments are among the 21,000 report that are part of the catalog of horrors and mishaps reported by consumers to the federal agency in charge of ensuring that the stuff we buy doesn't kill or injure us.
Horror stories reveal broader risk to vulnerable adults

Horror stories reveal broader risk to vulnerable adults

  There’s a $72 billion federal program that controls the money of 8 million vulnerable Americans, and you’ve probably never heard of it. The

A feeling of betrayal by 'Do Not Call' list

People who put their phone numbers on the Do Not Call list reported a staggering 3.7 million violations last year. That doesn’t include…
Lifelong fraud-fighter pays a visit

Lifelong fraud-fighter pays a visit

John Kotalik’s battle over a medical bill sounded like so many of the eye-glazing pleas launched in my direction every day. But Kotalik’s e-mail noted…
The University of Minnesota builds a dream on gravel

The University of Minnesota builds a dream on gravel

The University of Minnesota has launched its vision of an eco-friendly city in rural Dakota County, and right now, it looks an awful lot like a gravel pit.
Orono man sent to jail for junky yard

Orono man sent to jail for junky yard

Two days before his date with the workhouse, James Barth made one final bid for freedom. He told a Hennepin County district judge that he…
Maple Grove council member reflects on life in workhouse

Maple Grove council member reflects on life in workhouse

Fresh from the county workhouse, LeAnn Sargent will have plenty to talk about when she rejoins the Maple Grove City Council next month. The foul…
Minneapolis' golden age of river traffic never arrived

Minneapolis' golden age of river traffic never arrived

The long-lived dream of river commerce in Minneapolis officially ended a few weeks ago, laid to rest by the stroke of a presidential pen.
Full Disclosure: U law prof. under fire from angry investors

Full Disclosure: U law prof. under fire from angry investors

In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and lawsuits, shareholders have alleged that Edward Adams has at times served as a director, officer, lawyer and stockbroker for Scio, a start-up company that has suffered net losses of $13 million since it went public, with Adams as chairman, in 2011.
Full disclosure: One man's public fight for privacy

Full disclosure: One man's public fight for privacy

The police have never knocked down Rich Neumeister's door in the middle of the night. They haven't rifled through his files, tapped his phone or…
Full Disclosure: Database solves cold-case mysteries

Full Disclosure: Database solves cold-case mysteries

The National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) is the first publicly accessible nationwide database designed to solve some of the most puzzling and agonizing modern mysteries.
Full Disclosure: $200K in custody

Full Disclosure: $200K in custody

The strange journey of the $200 grand in the silver attaché case began when drug investigators raided a Minneapolis tobacco shop.
Full Disclosure: What's in those rail cars?

Full Disclosure: What's in those rail cars?

When it comes to hazardous rail freight, the public just has to have faith.

13 seconds in August: The 35W bridge collapse

The Star Tribune has identified the drivers and occupants of 78 of 84 cars, trucks and other non-construction vehicles that remained on the bridge or sank in the river, as well as six of the road construction workers.
John Bacich, 'King of Skid Row,' preserved history

John Bacich, 'King of Skid Row,' preserved history

Back in the days when Minneapolis had a Skid Row, John Bacich was its king. Bacich owned the Victor Hotel, Rex Liquors and the freewheeling Sourdough Bar, home of the 10 cent beer. Those institutions, like the rest of the Gateway District downtown, were swept away by urban renewal in the early 1960s.

Hours before death, man talked of pride in firm

On Thursday morning, Reuven Rahamim bubbled over with enthusiasm about the future of his company, Accent Signage Systems.
May 22, 2011: On North Side, a quiet Sunday turns into chaos

May 22, 2011: On North Side, a quiet Sunday turns into chaos

In a part of Minneapolis where neighbors often feel buffeted from all directions, Sunday's tornado was one thing they didn't think they had to worry about.
Whistleblower: Grain Belt sign a big graffiti target

Whistleblower: Grain Belt sign a big graffiti target

The iconic sign's owner thinks he deserves a break from city's graffiti crackdown policy. | Hard Data
Their risk, his reward

Their risk, his reward

Longtime landlord finds a way to make money at bottom of city's real estate market.
Twister upends housing landscape

Twister upends housing landscape

But some say the disaster could bring a chance to improve north Minneapolis' housing stock - if landlords don't flee.
Going where the buffalo roam

Going where the buffalo roam

On a trip to South Dakota to view bison, one family finds the creatures can be both noble and annoying.
Homewrecker? Troubled landlord faces eviction

Homewrecker? Troubled landlord faces eviction

Whistleblower: Despite new management taking over, Minneapolis holds landlord responsible after years of maintenance complaints

Unfit to be lawyer, yet a guardian for 200

The case of Terri Ann Hauge, charged with bilking 10 vulnerable adults, shows the flaws in selecting and monitoring conservators.

Loan scams are thriving, Commerce says

Loan modification scams are finding victims in desperate homeowners.
Still slippery after 2 years

Still slippery after 2 years

Denny's settled a slip-and-fall case, but the source of trouble at a Coon Rapids restaurant remains.
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