Celebrating freedom of information and a Minnesota birthday


The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) turns 21 on March 16, which is also, appropriately enough, national Freedom of Information Day. Minnesota’s Freedom of Information Day celebration (see sidebar) will mark both events, honoring Reed Anfinson, recipient of the 2010 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award. For the first time, the award will be presented by the open government champion for whom it is named, John R. Finnegan, Sr.  Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson will give the keynote address.

Describing the import of the day and the issue, Finnegan commented that “access to government information is essential in a democratic society because the public needs to know how its government is functioning and whether it is working in the public interest. That was why the state law provides that all government information is presumed to be public unless specifically closed by the Legislature.” 

FULL DISCLOSURE: Mary Treacy is the executive director of the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI).

Chief Justice Eric J. Magnuson has presided over the court during hearings on complex access issues ranging from cameras in the courtroom to the famously open recount in Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate election.  Magnuson is known as an articulate proponent of openness in the judicial system.

Freedom of Information Day in Minnesota

This year’s FOI Day event is Wednesday, March 16, Noon-1:00 in the Pohlad Auditorium at Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.  The event is free and open to the public.  Light refreshments will be served.

For more on the MNCOGI or FOI Day event check the website or contact mtreacy@onvoymail.com.

Anfinson, born to a family with printer’s ink their veins, is publisher and owner of the Swift County Monitor-News, based in Benton, MN.  A recognized proponent of open government Anfinson writes frequently about Minnesota Open Meeting Law, the Data Practices Act, and the impact of technology on a free press.  In 2012 Anfinson will become president of the American Newspaper Association. He currently serves on the organization’s national board. 

FOI Day is celebrated at the national level by a host of organizations. The annual event is set for March 16, the birth date of James Madison, know for his observation that:

A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or perhaps both.  Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

MNCOGI began in 1989 as an ad hoc network of advocates committed to open government is now a mature nonprofit organization active in state and national efforts   In July 2009 the MNCOGI hosted the National Summit of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.  The state initiative mirrored developments at the federal level.