Carlton County Stonewalls Again…
What will it take to make Carlton County comply with statutory guidelines?
By Marvin Pirila
Carlton County continues its path of delays, excuses, and disregard for the citizen’s right to know when it comes to Data Practices requests. A documented path of “above the law” delays and obstruction are detailed herein.
On December 27, 2014 at 8:38 p.m. Mr. Pirila sent an email to Mr. Dennis Genereau, requesting in part, “…Please provide all documents regarding the use of equipment by county employees, extending to the investigation by Itasca County…Why Data Requests are not being answered in a timely manner, if at all? Provide all documents related to these requests, including emails. Actions taken against non-compliant personnel for failing statutory duty of answering requests…New policy for county employees regarding equipment use and copy of applicable law excusing prosecution/termination for same.
Compliance pursuant to Chapter 13 is requested.”
On February 18, 2015, Mr. Pirila sent Mr. Genereau an email that included in part, “Please consider this an official data practices request for all case related materials involved in: The investigation into Carlton County employees unauthorized use of county equipment stemming from a complaint by a 29-year employee of Carlton County's building and maintenance department… The Joanne Wappes criminal case… Joanne Wappes civil case (Case No. 09-CV-14-1981)…Charges and proceedings of Carlton County vs. John Edwin Bemis III.” [This second request on unauthorized use of county equipment was 53 days after the initial request on 12/27/14.]
On April 17, 2015 Mr. Pirila reviewed the file on the unauthorized use of county equipment by employees, taking notes. That evening, Mr. Pirila emailed Mr. Genereau requesting “The new policy regarding use of Carlton County equipment following last investigation on theft/time stealing allegations” that was noticeably missing from the file. Also missing was any action other than a change in policy. Only in government can you borrow/not return your employers tool, get caught, and only receive a new policy. At the very minimum, all managers should be disciplined. When did we need a policy to state the obvious?
On May 7, 2015 at 6:47 p.m. Mr. Berglund emailed Mr. Pirila, “Mr. Genereau asked that I respond to you regarding inspection of the above criminal [Wappes and Bemis III] files. Based on the volume of the files, it will take some time to separate the public and nonpublic data; however, my trial next week was cancelled, so I will have this on my priorities for next week. I will notify you when this data is available for your inspection.” [Note: this response came 78 days after the 2/18/15 request.]
On May 27, 2015 at 9:15 p.m. Mr. Pirila emailed Mr. Genereau and Mr. Jesse Berglund, Assistant County Attorney, “Gentlemen, I originally requested this information on 2/19/15 [sic – actually 2/18], now more than three months later it is yet to be made available. When might this be ready? In most cases, information is supposed to be stored in such a way as to allow access within 5 days. In this case, and the amount of information involved, one could realistically believe 30 days might be warranted, but 90 and more?
Also, Mr. Genereau, I would like a copy of the full investigation into the use of county equipment for personal use. Drop me a figure on copying costs and I'll send a check right away.”[Mr. Pirila had just reviewed the investigation in full, took some notes, and wanted a copy of it in whole.]
On May 28, 2015, at 3:47 p.m. Mr. Genereau emailed, “Hello, Mr. Pirila. I hope this e-mail finds you well. Mr. Berglund is working to address the first portion of your request below. As regards the second portion, and as you and I have discussed, my office takes reports of inappropriate use of county equipment very seriously. [Emphasis added] You have requested information regarding an investigation of use of county equipment for personal use. Assuming that request pertains to a report we received recently, we are currently engaged in an investigatory process and as of today, that matter has not yet reached final disposition. [This was not true as I received the copy of the new policy which was the final disposition of the matter.] Therefore, under MN Stat. Sec. 13.43, Subd. 2(a)(4), we are rather limited as to what we can be release prior to final disposition. As soon as that matter does reach final disposition, I will release to you all that I am permitted to release under the Data Practices statute. In the meantime, if you like, I can release certain limited information. Please let me know if you would like me to do so, understanding that data, per statute, will be very limited.” [The very information that had been personally reviewed was suddenly made unavailable because it didn’t have a final disposition, even though it was already declared done. Mr. Pirila requested a copy of what he had seen already, nothing more. The situation moved from stonewalling to outright withholding of already shared information.]
Jesse Berglund emailed Mr. Pirila on 5/28/15, at 8:21 a.m., “In regards to the Wappes / Bemis investigations and criminal files, these consist of a large amount of data, and take a very significant amount of staff time to go through each document to ensure that private / nonpublic data is redacted. I have gone through the Wappes file, and have identified documents to be redacted, and now we are awaiting administrative staff to make the necessary redactions. I will notify you when this is complete.” [Now the request was initially made 99 days ago and the public is supposed to wait on administrative staff to redact the necessary items. Individuals certainly aren’t given the same opportunity to determine their own time schedules for submitting information as requested by the county.]
On May 29, 2015 at 10:05 p.m. Marvin Pirila emailed Mr. Genereau, “Pertaining to the inappropriate use of county equipment and my request for a copy of the investigation I'm left perplexed. I have read it in its entirety as previously approved and am just now asking for a copy of it. The investigation, to my observation and having reviewed it in full, seems complete and finalized. I gathered from our conversations and information requests that nothing but the policy change resulted. There was no discipline nor any plan of discipline mentioned. You will have to explain this seemingly sudden change.
As far as the Wappes/Bemis cases, I cannot understand how it remains unavailable in whole after more than 100 days. Yes, there is undoubtedly of information to redact, but to have nothing available for review draws questions. Those cases are both completed to my knowledge and merely waiting on the redacting. With no foreseeable date seen or now mentioned, this has the feeling of continued stonewalling, or at the bare minimum, failure to take the requests for information guaranteed by the Data Practices Act as important.
I hope now, as I always have, for continued cooperation in providing public information, as available and in a timely manner.”
On 6/1/15 at 2:03 p.m. Dennis Genereau emailed, “As regards the county equipment matter, the confusion lies in the fact that occasionally we receive complaints regarding employees, including complaints regarding the fact that employees may be inappropriately using county equipment or time. In order to ensure that I provide you with the information you are seeking, the more specific you are able to be, the more quickly I can respond. As such, would you be willing to clarify for me specifically the case you are requesting. I assume it involves the Building Maintenance Department from approximately 2011. [Amazing claim, given that they had already provided the documents for personal review, but then denied a copy of the same. Now, in an effort to delay/obstruct the public right to information, he [Genereau] asks for a case number and more information.]
As for Wappes and Bemis, I spoke with the County Attorney’s Office today regarding when those files might be ready for your review. As that office was short staffed for several months until just recently, and the Wappes file is contained in a database out of St. Louis County which we do not yet have access to, there have been a couple hurdles to overcome in getting the file ready for your review. That office confirmed to me today that they have always taken your requests seriously, and this request is no different. While I am unable to provide you with a firm date as to when the files will be ready for your review, I can promise to contact you via email two weeks today and update you as to where your request is at if it has not been filled by that time.“ [A shortage of staff is no excuse for failing to provide statutorily mandated data, nor was it even mentioned in prior correspondence. Likewise, the claim that the Wappes file is contained in a St. Louis County database was never mentioned. Were they just finding this out and if so, it would appear they waited until now until inquiring. Regardless, they continue to disregard their obligation to a timely response to data practices requests. Until legislators punish those entities that stonewall and/or obstruct the process of data gathering, there will be no true transparency. If they are allowed to hide behind immunity and the law while calling themselves the administrators of law, there is no equitable justice, and all they do comes with a biased hand.]
To date, June 22, 2015, no files have been made available with respect to the Joanne Wappes and John Edwin Bemis III cases, both which closed on 3/20/15 and 2/13/15, respectively.