I’m a bit late to this, but I wanted to put in my two cents to a post from Sally Jo Sorensen’s blog post from last week about the Minnesota Senate’s Rural Task Force. On her Bluestem Prairie blog, Sorensen took the Task Force to task for not recording its meetings via sound files or minutes, and failing to distribute document packets to the public. Although RTF subsequently released minutes from one meeting to her, my guess is it took some prodding. She apparently never got a comment from Saxhaug himself, but she did get a response from Senate Majority Media staffer Amelia Cerling explaining things.
I have heard back from Sen. Saxhaug’s staff and unfortunately don’t have good news to share. Because the Rural Task Force is not an ‘official’ Senate task force there is no audio/video or minutes taken. Likewise there are no digital copies of the documents handed out at the meeting.
If you are interested in attending the next meeting, it’s taking place on Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. I apologize for not being more help.
Please let me know if there is anything else I can assist with.
As it so happens, the Task Force is chaired by Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, who I frequently cover on my beat as a member of the Bemidji-area delegation to the Legislature. He swung by the Pioneer office last week, and I figured I’d cut through all this red tape and just ask him why they weren’t recorded.
To his credit, Saxhaug actually beat me to it, bringing it up himself how “we got a little static from some people” about the lack of recordings. However, when I asked him about why they weren’t recorded, Saxhaug at first handed the question off to staffer Mitch Berggren, who was also at the interview. Berggren said the reason RTF didn’t record the meetings was partly because they didn’t have to and partly because they couldn’t.
“Under Senate rules, these are not official hearings,” he said. “No formal actions are being taken. They do not need to be recorded, there don’t need to be any minutes made public. It’s strictly informational, we’re not in session. If it was a hearing by a committee, absolutely they have to be recorded and minutes have to be posted. One, (due to) the Capitol renovations… we don’t have cameras right now. So, the technology that everybody has come to rely on isn’t available in the building right now, due to no fault of our own. But the main reason is because, as a task force, not a formal senate committee, there is no requirement of recording them. And, we don’t have the means to get that information out.”
Saxhaug then chimed in.
“We thought that if we came up with some decent ideas, then it might be a reason for one of us to write a bill,” he said. “That’s kind of how we left it.”
Then I asked if there was still an ethical obligation to the taxpayers to record the meetings, even if there wasn’t a legal obligation.
After a pause, Saxhaug responded.
“I think that it’s something that’s worthy enough of attention…there was plenty of people that attended, and… I didn’t feel like we were operating in a vacuum,” he said finally.
Driving all the way to St. Paul shouldn’t have been the only recourse for people wanting to be informed about RTF’s activities. I understand the task force is a new idea and the Senate is still trying to work out the kinks, but “we don’t have cameras right now” isn’t a valid excuse in the era of smart phones. At the very least, they could have posted audio on the senate website. Hopefully the upcoming meeting in December will be more open.