The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information found that for 20 types of records it deemed of broad interest to the public, Minnesota made 13 available for free online [Download list by type], putting the state slightly above average. Texas was the only state that provided all 20 types of information and Mississippi ranked last, with four.
The Star Tribune's headline on a story about the survey — "Survey: 65 percent of Minnesota government records online" — is misleading, since the sponsors certainly did not measure all types of records, and 100 percent of all records would hardly be a desirable goal. As Doug Neville, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said, "If we were to take everything we do and put it online, it would be harder to find that information."
Most Minnesota consumers might not feel left in the dark by the state's failure to post gas pump overcharge records or by the lack of a state database of consumer complaints. Availability of child care center inspection reports may be of intense interest to a few taxpayers and of no value to many others.
But taxpayers should care that we can't yet access an online database of state expenditures — or, as a previous study by Good Jobs First found, that Minnesota ranked “dead last” on public disclosure of state contracts. Since we have to make choices about where to invest public resources and staff time, it should be in the comprehensive systems that make government more accountable overall.
We're getting there, but as I wrote when the Good Jobs First study came out:
Sunshine Week is not the end of sunshine activities in Minnesota. The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information will be the host for the 2009 Freedom of Information Summit in Minneapolis June 5 and 6.
— Charlie Quimby