Minneapolis says disclosure law 'does not cover' top appointees

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2012 - 7:38 AM

Appointee doesn't fit definition of public official, Minneapolis says.

Minneapolis city attorneys believe a new state law intended to shine light on mysterious local government resignations doesn't apply to many of the city's top appointees, including a director who departed abruptly amid unknown allegations.

After only nine months as the city's head of regulatory services, Gregory Stubbs resigned in August and took home a $70,000 settlement. A complaint was pending against him, but the city has refused to release it because they say he does not fit the legal definition of a "public official."

Stubbs' departure came amid several high-profile shakeups in regulatory services, which oversees licensing and inspections. Two days before Stubbs resigned, Mayor R.T. Rybak announced plans to strip many of the department's core responsibilities. Just over a month later, two veteran department employees faced rare criminal charges for misusing driver's license data.

The Legislature took swift action this spring to address public resignations after the Burnsville school district's human resources director departed with a $250,000 payment and little explanation from the city. An amendment to the state's open records law expanded the definition of a "public official" to cover, among other employees, individuals in a management capacity who report to the equivalent of a city's chief administrative officer.

Under Minneapolis' reading of the law, however, the police and fire chiefs would not qualify as public officials because they don't report to the city coordinator. The city's 311 director would qualify, however.

"It's laughable on its face as a matter of policy," said Mark Anfinson, an attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association who was involved in crafting the legislation.

"There isn't the slightest question that the intent of the Legislature was to reach people like Stubbs," Anfinson said.

The author of the new law, Rep. Pam Myhra, R-Burnsville, said "the taxpayers have the right to know" this information. "It absolutely was the intent of the legislation that those people in those management positions would be included in this," Myhra said.

Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said regardless of the author's intent, they are bound to follow the letter of the law.

"The language of this new amendment, as written, does not cover all managers in the city because of our management structure," Segal said in a statement. "Our intent is not to restrict access to information but simply to abide by the law."

The city believes that the city coordinator is their closest equivalent to a chief administrative officer. But that position has no authority over several department heads, including police chief, fire chief and regulatory services director. They report instead to the city's executive committee, which consists of four council members and the mayor. The coordinator also reports to that committee.

A Star Tribune attorney wrote to the city that the executive committee is therefore a closer match to chief administrative officer, but the city disagrees.

"Mr. Stubbs ... did not report to an individual acting in an equivalent position to a chief administrative officer and therefore did not meet the statutory definition of a public official," Deputy City Attorney Peter Ginder wrote.

The city has little incentive to hand over data it doesn't believe is public since there could be significant civil penalties for doing so.

Stubbs isn't Minneapolis' first regulatory services director whose resignation came with little explanation. His predecessor, Rocco Forte, resigned abruptly in 2011 with a complaint pending against him. The basis for that complaint was never revealed.

Resignations often allow charges against lower-level public employees to remain secret, since it usually precedes any discipline. When employees are terminated, suspended, or reprimanded, however, the basis for their discipline is a matter of public record.

Stubbs did not return messages seeking comment.

Eric Roper • 612-673-1732 Twitter: @StribRoper

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