Cash Cowed

Is $13k too much to pay for a compact disc? Not in Hennepin County.

Don Gemberling, the director of the Information Policy Analysis Division at the state Department of Administration, agrees. Minnesota's leading expert on data-practices issues, Gemberling says the legislation permitting government agencies to recover development costs was aimed at defraying the initial expenses of installing pricey new computer systems, not the costs of operating and maintaining them. "The original deal was reasonable," Gemberling opines. "But basically, Hennepin County has been thumbing their nose at it ever since, with very creative interpretation of the term 'development costs.'"

Shallow pockets: Gary Hill heads the investigative-reporting unit at KSTP-TV
Craig Lassig
Shallow pockets: Gary Hill heads the investigative-reporting unit at KSTP-TV

For his part, Hill isn't sure what step he'll take next. KSTP is already party to a pending lawsuit over the Department of Public Safety's policy of charging $250 for a copy of its criminal-history database. "Now Hennepin County is out here saying, 'Here's how you can make money from your data.' They're proselytizing other government agencies. And that creates more and more of a problem from a public-policy standpoint and from a news-gathering standpoint," Hill says. "The idea of the Data Practices Act is that information should be free and easily accessed. At some point, you have to sue to make that stick."

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