The idea of adding another city staffer whose primary job would be fulfilling Brainerd City Council member Bob Olson's information requests doesn't sit well with Olson.
But that's what was proposed at Monday's Personnel and Finance Committee meeting.
The issue was placed on the committee's agenda by council and committee member Anne Nelson Fisher, who said after discussions with City Administrator Dan Vogt and Finance Director Theresa Goble and learning about the time it takes to fill Olson's requests, that Personnel and Finance should consider adding a staffer.
"I will definitely go on record saying we do not need another staff person in the city administrator's office," Olson said in a phone interview Tuesday. "We don't need one period -- half time, part time, whatever. In fact, we could cut one of the staffers to half time or even cut one out. We are overstaffed in that office."
Vogt disagrees. Where Olson emphasizes some of his information requests amount to little more than copying information out of a book, Vogt said often information Olson requests, especially financial information, needs to be compiled on computers. And in cases where the information is older than three years, it needs to be reformatted to be compatible with the city's current computer programs. Often staffers must go through the city's vaults to find older information.
Vogt noted that in the past three months he has received 60 memos from Olson, a majority of which contain several requests for separate pieces of information. In that time, Olson has requested information on issues ranging from the Brainerd Area Civic Center to the wastewater treatment facility to fuel bids. Vogt noted that one of Olson's requests took 13 hours to fulfill by a Park and Recreation Department staffer and another request took 12 hours by an administrative staffer.
Olson contends he, as well as anyone else, has a right to that data as it is considered public information according to Minnesota statute.
The issue is not giving out information, Vogt said, but the amount of time that it takes to fulfill Olson's requests. That, he said, takes away from his staffers' other duties.
"I know I'm required to give out data," Vogt said. "When I get a request for data that I'm required to provide I have never not provided it. That's not it, it's the amount of time it takes. If the public had any idea of the amount of time one council member is using of publicly funded staff members, they would be shocked. I see that amount of time, and time is money."
Olson said he has told Vogt and Goble that he would look for the information on his own in the administrator's office if shown where to look. Vogt said that would be possible, but the financial data would still need to be compiled by a staffer on the computer system.
"I am not costing the city any money. I think I'm doing my job as an elected official," Olson said. "I don't get excited or upset when these allegations are made."
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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