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Category: Small Cities
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Crafting an Effective Data Request Policy for Minnesota Cities

In an age where information is power, city employees are increasingly facing demands for data from various parties, ranging from citizens to interest groups. While transparency is crucial for maintaining trust and accountability, the process of handling data requests can often consume valuable staff time, especially for small cities with limited resources and staff. Additionally, the rise of both well-intentioned and ill-intended 1st amendment audits by different rights groups has further emphasized the need for a well-defined data request policy. As a partner to many small cities across the state with issues like this, Bollig Engineering is providing some general guidelines to help guide Minnesota cities in creating a data request policy that not only streamlines the process but also aligns with legal statutes.

The Importance of a Data Request Policy

A data request policy serves as a vital tool for cities to manage and streamline the process of handling requests for information. Such a policy not only promotes transparency but also protects the city from potential legal issues. It ensures that requests are handled consistently, fairly, and within the bounds of the law. Below are some steps to assist in developing an effective data request policy.

Understanding MN Statute 13.025, Subdivision 2

Before drafting a data request policy, it’s essential to understand the legal framework provided by MN Statute 13.025, Subdivision 2. This statute outlines the requirements for responding to data requests and the timelines within which responses should be provided. Familiarize yourself with these legal obligations to ensure your policy is compliant.

Seek Guidance from Peers & Experts

Kris Ambuehl, MPA and Director of Client Development at Bollig Engineering, previously worked as the City Administrator in two different small cities. He went through this process of creating a Data Request Policy and learned a lot along the way. Kris points out, “Data practice issues can consume city staff’s already limited time. Having a policy in place reduces the user of staff time, limits liability, and creates a process that is easy to execute. We are willing to help any city start down the right path to developing a new, or improving an old policy to accomplish this.” To develop a robust data request policy, we recommend seeking guidance from other city clerks who have gone through the process and reputable sources such as the League of Minnesota Cities counsel or the Municipal Clerks & Finance Officers Association Of Minnesota (MCFOA). These organizations can provide insights, resources, and best practices based on their expertise in Minnesota governance.

“Data practice issues can consume city staff’s already limited time. Having a policy in place reduces the use of staff time, limits liability, and creates a process that is easy to execute. We are willing to help any city start down the right path to developing a new, or improving an old policy to accomplish this.” – Kris Ambuehl, MPA

Customize the Data Request Policy for Your City

Tailor the policy to reflect your city’s unique needs, processes, and resources. The policy may address key aspects such as:

  • Request Submission: Specify how data requests should be submitted (online forms, written letters, email, etc.).
  • Timelines: Define clear timelines for acknowledging and responding to requests, as per the legal requirements.
  • Fees: Outline any applicable fees for data retrieval, copying, and distribution. Ensure these fees are in line with the MN statutory guidelines.
  • Exemptions: Detail the types of data that might be exempt from disclosure and provide reasons for such exemptions.
  • Data Format: Specify the format in which data will be provided (electronic, paper, etc.).
  • Other: Other information that could be included may be the appeal process, data security, data practice contacts, etc.

Consult Your City Attorney

Drafting a data request policy requires legal expertise to ensure it aligns with local and state laws. Before adopting the policy, seek guidance from your city attorney to review the policy for compliance, offer suggestions, and make sure that all legal nuances are addressed.

Reach Out to Us

As cities embrace the digital age, a well-structured policy becomes a cornerstone of effective governance for cities in Minnesota, especially small cities that tend to be more limited with resources and staff. By developing a comprehensive data request policy with insights from reputable organizations, cities can protect staff time, maintain legal compliance, and foster public trust. With Kris Ambuehl’s experience working as the City Administrator in two different small cities, he went through this process of creating a Data Request Policy. If you have questions or are looking for some insight on what worked for him, feel free to reach out directly at kambuehl@bollig-engineering.com or 320-360-0924.

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