Minneapolis crisis chief's 2011 departure remains a mystery

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2014 - 5:46 AM
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Former Minneapolis Fire Chief Rocco Forte left as the city’s director of regulatory services and emergency preparedness in 2011.

Photo: KYNDELL HARKNESS • Star Tribune file,

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The city of Minneapolis has taken more than seven months to reveal why a top official abruptly departed in 2011, despite a state law change last year to make such data public.

Rocco Forte, a former fire chief who later oversaw regulatory services and emergency preparedness, resigned two and a half years ago after a 36-year career with the city. At the time, city officials said he had a complaint pending against him, but the basis for it and the findings of a related investigation were never revealed.

The Star Tribune requested all documents relating to that complaint in May, soon after the Legislature expanded a provision of the state’s open records law to include Minneapolis department heads. In the interim, the city did respond to an accompanying request for data pertaining to Greg Stubbs, Forte’s successor as regulatory services chief, who resigned after being accused of discrimination.

A city spokesman, Matt Laible, has said the delay in responding to the Forte request involves the amount of documents — “over a banker’s box full” — which city attorneys must review to redact private data. The identities of employees who make complaints are not public.

Mark Anfinson, a First Amendment and media attorney who has represented the Star Tribune, said the explanation would be plausible to explain why they need four to six weeks. “It’s not a plausible explanation if they take seven months,” Anfinson said. “Unless you’ve got a garage full of banker’s boxes — they’re just not getting to it. And I don’t think that is in any way conforming to what the law requires.”

City Attorney Susan Segal said Wednesday that they are working diligently on the request.

“The length of time in reviewing is due to the complexity of the matter, the number of witnesses involved and the fact that Mr. Forte was head of a department, creating issues about personnel data for individuals interviewed or referenced in the investigation materials,” Segal said in an e-mail.

In late November, the city said the process would spill over into January. On Tuesday, Laible said it would now take until February.

Forte, who rose to national prominence as the emergency coordinator during the Interstate 35W bridge collapse, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The state’s open records law, the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, does not impose a time frame for responding to public data requests. Records must be kept in an arrangement to make them “easily accessible for convenient use,” and governments must have procedures to ensure requests are “complied with in an appropriate and prompt manner.”

 

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732

Twitter: @StribRoper

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