Recently, The Associated Press conducted a statewide survey to determine the level of cooperation in the release of public information by public officials, in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act. Citizens in all 87 counties were asked to inquire about and obtain copies of specific information from public officials at local and county levels. Specifically, the items to be requested included the salary and benefit package for the school superintendent, a copy of the city council minutes and the daily log of prisoners booked into the county jail, all items of public record and available for inspection by the general public.
As a member of The Brainerd Daily Dispatch editorial board, I was asked to obtain this information and report my findings as part of the survey for Crow Wing County. As a former private investigator turned homemaker, I welcomed the opportunity to don my sleuthing cap again. Given the proximity of the buildings housing each of these local entities, my task was not time-consuming, but rather interesting.
I was treated professionally at each of the offices. With the exception of a minor delay at the Law Enforcement Center (which I believe was due in part to an internal miscommunication and a malfunctioning copier) the information was quickly and efficiently provided. My report to the statewide survey positively reflected the cooperation by public officials in Crow Wing County.
It is commendable that officials in this area are informed and in compliance with the laws governing public information. Administrative officials should be congratulated for educating their staffs to address and properly comply with public inquiries. Credit should also be given to The Dispatch for their continued vigilance in ensuring the right to access public information is not impeded.
While ordinary citizens in the course of their day may never have the need for a copy of the superintendent's benefit package or the daily booking log at the jail, it is reassuring to know that this and other information is readily available and subject to public scrutiny. Perhaps the irony of the situation is that although information is available, and so many battles have been fought to ensure that it remains available, so few afford the time and effort to access and utilize the information to be informed citizens.
(Larson is a Baxter resident and a member of The Brainerd Dispatch editorial board.)
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