As the demand for public records in Minneapolis surges, city clerks are feeling pressure to do a better job getting data to those filing the requests.
At a council meeting Thursday, Assistant City Clerk Christian Rummelhoff gave a presentation showing the city has already received 743 data requests this year, 320 more than at the same time last year and nearly double the requests for all of 2015. That doesn’t include hundreds of requests for Minneapolis police data.
He attributed the rise to more data-minded citizens and media, a concerted effort from the city to centralize and better track requests, and more inquiries coming for business purposes, such as someone looking for inspections related to the city’s vibrant real estate market.
At the council’s Enterprise Committee meeting Thursday, Chairwoman Linea Palmisano directed staff to prepare a “State of Data” report that will show how Minneapolis government can be more transparent and what the city clerk’s office has done since a 2015 audit, which showed the city lagged behind national standards. The report is due to the council in September.
“We know that there’s much work to do in terms of improving how we create, how we manage, how we share and how we dispose of our data,” Palmisano said. She said the data produced by Minneapolis government is an asset that belongs to the public. “We owe them that.”
Minneapolis is governed by a state law that defines what records are private and public in Minnesota, though the law is vague about how long the government has to fulfill a request. The processing time can vary by agency, amount of work needed and whether data must be redacted — or blacked out — in accordance with the law.
The city’s 2015 internal audit found that Minneapolis did a poor job managing its records, securing private information and putting in place procedures for what to do if records are illegally breached. City Clerk Casey Carl, who is legally responsible for the city’s compliance with data laws, was scheduled to appear before the council to respond the following spring, but the presentation never happened.
Two years later, Palmisano said it’s time to put the spotlight back on public records.
“My vision is for Minneapolis to be a shining example of how government should work,” said Palmisano in an interview.
At the meeting Thursday, Rummelhoff presented the city’s complicated process for what happens once a request comes to Minneapolis, showing a system that relies on many staff and city departments to intake, collect, produce and review public records.
In 2017, it took 36 days on average to process a request, said Rummelhoff. More than half of requests took 10 days or less to process, according to city data.
Some requesters wait much longer. Five percent took three to six months, and 6 percent took longer than that.
The length of time can depend on how many cases the city is managing, so the rise in requests may be increasing the lag, said Rummelhoff.
Rummelhoff said the city has been working on improving how it manages and disseminates data since the 2015 audit, including a push to set up data “dashboards” that allow people to find information on the city’s website without the need for an official request. But he acknowledged there is more work to do.
“We don’t think we’re doing good enough, and we think we need to make improvements,” he said.