Bill Seeks to Change Definition of ‘Public Official’ Under Data Practices Act

March 15, 2021

Under the bill, a new definition of “public official” would apply to all cities, not only those with populations above 7,500.

SF 620 (Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville) would change who qualifies as a “public official” under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and, thus, classify more personnel data as “public.”

The bill was heard on March 11 by the Senate Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee, which amended and approved the bill, 7-1, and sent it to the Senate floor.

The House companion, HF 851 (Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring), has not yet had a hearing.

Changes the bill would make

Under current law, all data relating to an employee complaint is public if that employee is a public official and has resigned or been terminated while a complaint is pending. The chief administrative officer of a city is considered a public official, as well as managers, chiefs, heads, or directors of departments, divisions, bureaus, or boards in cities with a population of more than 7,500.

SF 620 would remove this population threshold, thus applying the definition of “public official” to all 853 Minnesota cities, no matter how small the population or staff.

The bill was prompted by a situation a few years ago, when a city police chief resigned during an internal affairs investigation. The data from the investigation was private because the city was below the population threshold of 7,500.

City concerns lead to amendment

The League and the Minnesota Association of Small Cities expressed their concerns that the bill, as introduced, would have unintended consequences for small cities. The committee adopted an amendment that addressed many city concerns.

The amendment still removes the population threshold, but it changes the definition of “public official” to specifically apply to police chiefs, fire chiefs, and public safety directors, as well as to managers, heads, or directors who supervise at least two full-time employees.

This amendment defines more city employees as “public officials” under the Data Practices Act, but it does not inadvertently include employees of one-person departments (who are often part-time in small cities). Instead, these employees would be treated like other city employees under the personnel data statute.

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