Five months after the Winona County Board's unanimous directive to staff to create a policy that would eliminate fees for copies of public data in most situations, no policy exists. At least one data request made by this newspaper has languished for nearly as long, and faced repeated resistance from county administrator Duane Hebert. Instead of crafting the policy as directed, administrators added a fee schedule to the County Board's Tuesday agenda that would continue the imposition of fees for copies of public data in 2014 — in most cases, the maximum amount allowed by the state.
Board Chair Wayne Valentine and Commissioner Steve Jacob requested that the new policy concept be placed on the next agenda, and the item is scheduled for an informal discussion Tuesday following the regular meeting. Valentine was unavailable for comment for this story, as was Hebert. Jacob said it's time to create the policy and begin responding in a timely manner to requests for public documents. "People have the right to access public information," he said. "There's no doubt I'm frustrated with the situation."
In July, when the board directed staff to create the policy, commissioners agreed that the county should be as transparent as possible, and asked that staff respond to data requests promptly — especially requests made by local media organizations that inform county taxpayers. The Winona Post made a request for county employee communications on a topic of interest on July 18, but Hebert has repeatedly resisted requests to provide the information, and most recently said that he would not process the entire request and would challenge it through the state Office of Administration as overburdensome if the Winona Post continued to request to view all of the data.
It is not the first time that commissioners' advocacy for policies on transparency have been slighted or forgotten. On July 1, 2010, the full board voted to adopt a set of policies aimed at transparency — maintaining board meeting videos for 10 years, allowing the public to have access to committee and advisory group meetings, and the creation and retention of accurate meeting minutes. Those policies were also never written.
Read the Winona Post next week for more on this story.