From the City of Red Wing in its November Newsletter:


The City has announced that it has released the background information gathered on the 2005 Council appointment candidates after the Office of the Attorney General deemed it public information based on the City’s lack of authority to collect such information. Note that in the time that this has been an issue, they didn’t announce that people had complained, they didn’t announce that one (moi) had filed a formal complaint, they didn’t announce the Dakota Co. Attorney opinion that a crime had not been committed, and did not announce that the Attorney General had determined that the City’s request for authorization and that therefore the City’s completion of background checks was unauthorized and inappropriate and smacked of prohibited intent of taking action as a result of information received, BUT the City does announce that it has released the information it gathered to the newspaper — seems a feeble attempt to cover up their improprieties and make it look like the paper is the bad guy when it’s the City that’s the bad actor.

Passive voice, circular and backwards thinking… drives me crazy. Distract, divert… that’s what they tried to do here: 071406-background-checks.doc Get a clue, it doesn’t work. The City is the party with the problem here. And here’s what they are saying they’re doing:

The City Council will evaluate the findings from the Dakota County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office and consider their impacts on its practice of requesting consent to perform candidate background checks prior to the 2008 election.

Really. That’s it. It’s been three months and one election since I filed a formal complaint, and it’s been a month since the A.G.’s Opinion, and there’s been no statement that the “practice” will cease. They “will” evaluate, future tense? It hasn’t happened yet? I would think that something that the Council hasn’t authorized would be pretty damn easy to publicly and loudly discontinue — yet nothing.

Anyway, here’s what’s new… the City sent this announcement to all residents, to all addresses and P.O. Boxes in the City, and it’s a one sided slanted story they present. Their view is disproportionately focused on the Dakota Co. opinion, which “exonerates” the City, but remember, the Dakota Co. opinion only addresses whether there was criminal activity, not whether there is an actionable civil intrusion on candidates’ rights. It does not recount the strong language with which the City was told by the A.G.’s Office that background checks of candidates for elected office were not authorized, no way, no how! There does not seem to be any consideration for those people who were the subjects of background checks, and who did not anticipate this result.

When I learned of the A.G.’s Opinion and reviewed it, and recognized that it meant the information would be released to the paper, I expressed my concern about how it would be used. As an attorney dealing with confidential information of many sorts, and having been the subject of an intense background check to be admitted to the Minnesota Bar, I’m concerned about the positions those folks may be in. I hoped the information could be used to very generally expose the types of intrusive checks that were done by the City, and to use the types of information gathered and potential impacts to drive home the severity of this constitutional violation and intrusion on the city’s part. I expressly stated my concern about damage that could be done to those 2005 appointment candidates because it was an unexpected twist in this mess and it’s important to state it. Information can be misconstrued, peoples lives and circumstances change — it’s just not a good idea to walk the public through others’ lives. And it disturbs me that the City has presented it as they have, as if it is the paper holding the rope on the guillotine, when it was the City’s unauthorized acts that raised this issue. At this point, we have to trust the journalistic ethics of those with the information. I’ve been thinking about this for about a month now, have expressed my concern directly, and despite the “Wente the Hatch(et)” mistep (to put it mildly), I do trust that this will be handled responsibly (deep breathe here, holding breath…).

A disturbing aside — I raised this topic at the District 28 (Goodhue/Wabash Counties) Green Party meeting today, and there seems to be little appreciation of the Consitiutional issue this presents. It’s not just the City Council that has to “read your Constitution!” It’s so fundamental that I’m mentally sputtering in shock!

Primary documents:

A.G. Opinion – No authorization for background checks

Dakota County Opinion – No crime was committed
(does not address whether there were civil wrongs)

Here’s the Red Wing City Council minutes when background checks were instituted, and a letter from the Red Wing City Attorney regarding appointment process v. a special election:

Here’s the recent November newsletter announcement in pdf in case you want to print it out (I’m making it larger but it’s still hard to read):

Here’s the newsletter announcement and sort-of explanation:


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