Staff Directory 10645956

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
State gives St. Paul school board blessing for secret meetings

State gives St. Paul school board blessing for secret meetings

The members of the St. Paul school board realized they had a problem, starting with themselves. So as they search for a new superintendent to…
Hopes, fears for transparency in Trump White House

Hopes, fears for transparency in Trump White House

Given that Donald Trump has described journalists as “scum,” “sleaze” and “horrible people,” it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the president-elect refrained from inviting the…
Shiffer: Ex-nursing student suffers legal setback over Facebook posts

Shiffer: Ex-nursing student suffers legal setback over Facebook posts

It’s a weird coincidence. Two major First Amendment rulings centered on Facebook rants by university students about plunging sharp objects into other people. And in…
Minneapolis shines a (partial) light on police misconduct

Minneapolis shines a (partial) light on police misconduct

The mayor called it “exciting” and “an important day for the city of Minneapolis.” The civil rights director said it fulfilled a promise made four…
E-mail policy in Gov. Dayton's office? Delete them at will

E-mail policy in Gov. Dayton's office? Delete them at will

The policy of the office calls for keeping only those e-mail messages that are "records of official transactions." Everything outside of that narrow category can be deleted at will.
Signs can go wild during election season

Signs can go wild during election season

If you were waiting to put up 50-foot billboards in your yard proclaiming the imminent arrival of extraterrestrials, your moment has arrived. Election season means…
Months after Jamar Clark case closed, FBI still won't cough up its file

Months after Jamar Clark case closed, FBI still won't cough up its file

Show us the files. That’s what the Star Tribune said to the FBI immediately after U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced that no federal charges would…
Shame on Congress if it grants even more secrecy to Pentagon

Shame on Congress if it grants even more secrecy to Pentagon

An inspector general report at the Pentagon concluded in 2013 that its computer systems were dangerously vulnerable to hackers. At least 49 large military drones…
Paper trail is a cornerstone of state's election integrity

Paper trail is a cornerstone of state's election integrity

As more and more of our world goes digital, what important system relies on paper records any more? Democracy, for one. The heart of Minnesota’s…
Twin Cities man loses iPad, gains $520 in 'movie money'

Twin Cities man loses iPad, gains $520 in 'movie money'

What happened to Anthony Darst was a sorry mix of robbery and fraud. Someone ran off with his iPad, and left him holding an envelope…
Transparency takes center stage in campaign for White House

Transparency takes center stage in campaign for White House

  The last time the White House put out a vacancy sign, both major party presidential candidates talked about transparency so much you’d think they…
Set up to keep leash on spies, U.S.'s most secret court has lost its way

Set up to keep leash on spies, U.S.'s most secret court has lost its way

You can be forgiven if you've never heard of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It's America's most secretive court, and it convenes behind closed, guarded doors in a federal courthouse in Washington.
Concerned about bad PR, Vadnais Heights keeps $12,000 audit confidential

Concerned about bad PR, Vadnais Heights keeps $12,000 audit confidential

In an interview Friday, the mayor said that he had never seen the audit but that he nevertheless is convinced there's nothing new in it.
Mug shot sleaze doesn't justify keeping them secret

Mug shot sleaze doesn't justify keeping them secret

The mug shot is the star of the voyeur’s internet. Any web search turns up thousands of images of people booked and photographed by police,…
Minneapolis photo trove found in garage sparks hunt for IDs

Minneapolis photo trove found in garage sparks hunt for IDs

On Tuesday, the Hosmer Library is inviting the public to visit between 10 a.m. and noon to view the pictures and help identify who's in them.
Eco-radical punished twice for his jailhouse writings

Eco-radical punished twice for his jailhouse writings

Daniel McGowan was returning to his cell in the Sandstone, Minn., federal prison when he learned he was shipping out. At first he didn’t know…
Scuttled trout project launches man on crusade

Scuttled trout project launches man on crusade

David Holmbeck contacted me this spring with an urgent request. He wanted me to investigate a trout stream restoration project north of Chisholm, Minn., that…
Congress modernizes Freedom of Information Act

Congress modernizes Freedom of Information Act

Last week, Congress sent the White House a bill to revamp the Freedom of Information Act for the 21st century. In a bitterly divided Washington, support for the bill united Republicans such as Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Rep. Darrell Issa of California with Democrats such as Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

State hands company big subsidies, but name is hush-hush

Dear Legislature, please give me at least $60 million in taxpayer money over 10 years to create jobs in a depressed part of the state.…
Dismissal of defamation lawsuit vs. blogger helps asserting the sacred right to criticize

Dismissal of defamation lawsuit vs. blogger helps asserting the sacred right to criticize

If you say you’re a guru who has performed thousands of medical miracles around the world, it’s harder to say in court that you’re a…
Plain language center says it's winning war on gobbledygook

Plain language center says it's winning war on gobbledygook

The Minnesota Department of Revenue was honored for the direct and clear way in which it educated consumers about how to get their money back.
Living in downtown Minneapolis was badge of shame in days of Skid Row

Living in downtown Minneapolis was badge of shame in days of Skid Row

Through the early 1960s, the heart of Minneapolis was home to nearly 2,500 men who lived in some of the city's oldest and most decrepit buildings.
Body camera video: In Minnesota, for police eyes only

Body camera video: In Minnesota, for police eyes only

Police across the nation are going Hollywood, but in Minnesota, don’t expect to get invited to a screening any time soon. A bill setting policy…
After federal data breach, red tape snarls victim's search for answers

After federal data breach, red tape snarls victim's search for answers

In order to work on a U.S. Department of Energy contract, Joe Stoebner had to obtain top-secret, Q-level security clearance. If he or anyone in…
Lawsuit aims at Commerce Department's culture of secrecy

Lawsuit aims at Commerce Department's culture of secrecy

Timothy Vande Hey’s lawsuit against his former employer, the state of Minnesota, features lurid allegations of sexual harassment by a deputy Commerce commissioner. Yet that’s…
Hennepin County fined for violating records law

Hennepin County fined for violating records law

Tony Webster wanted to know whether the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office was using newfangled technology to track people through their faces, fingerprints and irises. So…
Panama Papers shed light on corporate secrecy at home

Panama Papers shed light on corporate secrecy at home

It took a massive leak of secret records from a Panama City law firm to reveal the global scope of tax evasion, profit offshoring and…

Chanhassen youth sports association bars mother from attending games

With four of her children playing basketball, baseball and softball in the Chanhassen Athletic Association, Mary Valentine's life revolves around youth sports. These days, though, she doesn't dare go to a game or a practice.
How 'transparency' became a hot word in divisive Jamar Clark case

How 'transparency' became a hot word in divisive Jamar Clark case

Thanks to the public outrage over Jamar Clark’s death, “transparency” is suddenly the hottest word in Minneapolis. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman used the word…
Shiffer: Promises made on police videos, but few released

Shiffer: Promises made on police videos, but few released

In December, the Star Tribune requested the body camera video of the an encounter from the city of Columbia Heights. City Attorney James Hoeft said no. Last week, the Star Tribune made a formal request to the state to declare the video a public record.
Censorship or bad writing? Behind MnDOT's scuttled book deal on St. Croix bridge

Censorship or bad writing? Behind MnDOT's scuttled book deal on St. Croix bridge

Needed: A new history of the Stillwater Lift Bridge. Willing to pay: $50,000. Requirement: A happy ending. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is looking for…

On Sunshine Week, how we can brighten our public life

Every year, First Amendment freaks like me observe Sunshine Week. It has nothing to do with flying down to Cabo for some rays. It’s about…
The fight against 'revenge porn'

The fight against 'revenge porn'

Three Gopher basketball players were benched for the rest of the season last week because a video of a sex act, featuring at least one…
Phishing scam pits Intuit against St. Paul's Cadenza Music

Phishing scam pits Intuit against St. Paul's Cadenza Music

The collection letter sent to Cadenza Music in St. Paul resembled what shows up in your mailbox when you forget to pay a phone or…
Minnesota attorney general appeals to Google to stop deceptive locksmith ads

Minnesota attorney general appeals to Google to stop deceptive locksmith ads

In the latest chapter of “seeing isn’t believing,” brought to you by Google, meet your “local locksmith.” That’s what plenty of Twin Cities residents thought…
Salt shaker emoji sparks a menu fight over free speech

Salt shaker emoji sparks a menu fight over free speech

These days, you can always spot emojis on the menu. A hot pepper warns you of a spice hazard. A leafy sprout heralds a vegetarian…
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 leg after a hunting accident last fall, in which a friend shot him with a 12-gauge round intended for a deer.
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 canvases in heavy oak frames that…
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…
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…
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…
Read our comment standards

StarTribune.com welcomes and encourages readers to comment and engage in substantive, mutually respectful exchanges over news topics. Commenters must follow our Terms of Use.

  1. Keep it civil and stay on topic.
  2. No profanity, vulgarity, racial slurs or personal attacks.
  3. Comments with web links are not permitted.
  4. Comments that violate the above will be removed. Repeat violators may lose their commenting privileges on StarTribune.com.

Comments will be reviewed before being published.

More from Star Tribune