Cross-examination by SOS attorney discloses flaws in Saint Paul’s data disclosure practices
Robert Cattanach, who represents the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association (SARPA) as well as assisting Save Our Street (SOS), cross-examined various city staff in the courtroom yesterday, as ordered by Judge Patrick Diamond. Cattanach raised questions about numerous defects in the City’s response process, and lengthy delays in responding to Data Practices Act (DPA) requests that date back to July 2022. More than 9 months later, the City was still disclosing documents this week, many only after he filed a lawsuit over their refusal to disclose documents. The following city staff were required to explain their actions under oath:
· Shari Moore, City Clerk, City of Saint Paul
· Drew Nelson, Deputy Director of Technology, Office of Technology and Communications
· Clare Cloyd, Public Service Manager, Parks & Recreation
· Lisa Hiebert, Public Information Officer & Marketing Manager, Public Works
Judge Diamond has given the City until midnight Monday to explain why their current data access practices did not violate the DPA, and ordered the two parties back to court on Tuesday for a final hearing.
Diamond gave a lengthy summary of his impressions following a full day of cross examinations highlighting his concerns, paraphrased here:
· “No one person has oversight” to ensure that the city is responding consistently
· There are no uniform practices and procedures for responding to requests
· The city appears to be limiting its responses to data requests to only the department where someone initiates their request
· "There is a second group of material – beyond emails – documents, files that are worth checking out.”
· “The process is designed and functions to only return non-email documents by one particular department."
· “There are potentially bunches of places that the city didn't look into” because of the way the city has chosen to structure the DPA request research.
Judge Diamond said he expected the city to demonstrate basic fairness in their response to citizens' requests for information. "I think the citizens are best served by compliance," said Diamond and “the City has the burden” of establishing that its procedures “are appropriate.”
Both sides are required to file proposals by Monday at midnight for Judge Diamond to consider, and he has scheduled a hearing for arguments at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, promising to issue an order as quickly as possible following the hearing.
Until the City fixes its procedures for obtaining data, Judge Diamond expressed concern that any actions taken by the City would lack credibility. SOS is pushing for a delay in the City Council vote until the City provides more clarity and transparency on the following issues:
· Alternatives to the trail with less impact on Trees, Safety & Historic Preservation
· Costs and source of funding
· Evidence of community support for the final plan
· Equity concerns
The number of people who have signed an online SOS petition opposing the proposal has reached 2,953 so far. Let's get this over 3,000 by the weekend!