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No more legislative secrecy

While Minnesota has generally done a good job passing and enforcing its open government laws, there is one glaring exception.

The Minnesota Legislature itself needs to live by the open government rules it has dictated to everyone else.

The state's best-known citizen-lobbyist on open government issues, Rich Neumeister, has prowled the Capitol's halls for years, fighting for public access.

Neumeister recently took on controversial departures of two state officials, according to our St. Paul correspondent, Don Davis.

In both cases, due to loopholes that allow for legislative secrecy, "the public may never know why (they departed)," Neumeister says.

The Legislature lives under different rules than other public bodies and can do more in secret.

One of Neumeister's questions come over what has been described as the firing of Michael Brodkorb, who was a key aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and chief spokesman for Senate Republicans.

He left the Senate just after four senators confronted Koch for having "inappropriate relations" with a Senate employee she supervised.

The other issue was what was reported as another firing: Susan Thornton, who directed the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Davis says the twist here is that House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who apparently fired Thornton, later suspended that action.

Those involved in both incidents refuse to discuss details.

Neumeister said information available to the public about the two incidents is "virtually nothing because the Legislature is not subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act" and laws that govern other governments' personnel decisions.

"If there was a firing of a high executive official in any other part of our state government or the judiciary, per their own rules which mirror the Data Practices Act, the public would know 'the specific reasons for the action and data documenting the basis of the action,'" Neumeister wrote in his blog. "There are some limited exceptions, but overall, the data is public. Not the case with the Legislature."

This kind of legislative secrecy is just plain bad government and should not be allowed to stand.

As Neumeister says, "Should the public not be able to have accountability and transparency for Legislative personnel matters as is done with the executive and judicial branches?"

State lawmakers need to update the Data Practices Act to hold themselves to the same standards they require of everyone else.