For nine months, the city of Minneapolis did nothing to hide the location of a downtown building it leased to serve as a police command center for next year’s Super Bowl.
Members of the City Council’s Ways and Means Committee discussed it openly in July and again in October, agreeing to spend about $750,000 in rent over three years. Officials specifically identified the location of the building at public meetings and in public records. Outside the building, passersby can see marked squad cars parked in spaces with signs posted for Minneapolis police.
Then, in April, the city decided that its temporary command center needed to go undercover. In response to a data request from the Star Tribune, the city provided a heavily redacted contract in which even the name of the property owner is blacked out.
Late last week, the city took down videos of council meetings from YouTube and records of council actions from the city website after learning the address of the building remained widely available on the internet.
“We didn’t know it was public, and we’re removing it now,” city spokesman Casper Hill said Friday.
The Star Tribune is not publishing the address of the command center at the request of the city, which cited security concerns.
The police department is facing its biggest test yet providing security for the Super Bowl, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of fans, celebrities and other VIPs. Along with the actual game, Super Bowl festivities will include 50 concerts and other events across the Twin Cities.
City Council Member John Quincy, whose Ways and Means committee approved the contract last July, said Friday he was unaware that city staff had recently decided that the address of the command center should be kept secret.
“If the command and records people feel that’s important for security purposes, that trumps any concern I have on transparency issues,” Quincy said.
Open government advocate Rich Neumeister criticized the city’s effort to remove information that had been public for months.
“It blows my mind,” Neumeister said. “I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”
The U.S. Secret Service has been assisting with Super Bowl security preparations for more than two years, beginning while the new U.S. Bank Stadium was still under construction. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security classifies the Super Bowl as a top security event, nearly on par with a presidential visit. Personnel from many other law enforcement agencies will supplement the city’s force in the run-up to the big day and during the game itself on Feb. 4, 2018.
The temporary command center will also be used for the 2019 Final Four college basketball tournament and other big events.
City Clerk Casey Carl defended the decision to keep the command center’s location secret, saying in an e-mail Monday that “disclosing such data could negatively impact its ability to prepare for, prevent, mitigate, and respond to or recover from emergency incidents.” He said that the command center location could aid people “seeking to harm the city, its people, property, or environment.”
In order to scrub any mention of the address, city staff must redact it from requests for council action, agendas and council proceedings, as well as edit videos of public meetings.
As of Monday morning, the videos of two council meetings and two Ways and Means committee meetings had been removed from YouTube.
There’s another effect of the secrecy surrounding the incident command center: The recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars of city money for the lease remains incognito.
“The public has a right to know who’s getting the money,” Neumeister said.
City Council Member Andrew Johnson, who raised a question about the spending at last summer’s committee meeting, said he expected the public would learn that information after the events are done.
City taxpayers are supposed to be reimbursed for the $3.1 million total estimated cost of Super Bowl security. The City Council in April signed an agreement with the Super Bowl Host Committee to repay the city more than $5 million in Super Bowl expenses.
At a news conference in April, the city’s special events consultant, former finance director Patrick Born, said he had not seen the host committee’s finances.
Aside from an annual tax filing, the private, nonprofit host committee does not have to share any of its finances with the public.