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Walz to offer more — but not all — details about his days

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DFL Gov. Tim Walz intends to release more self-selected information about his daily doings, although he won’t make public full details about meetings and events he attends, his office said Friday.

Under the new approach, Walz plans to disclose more appearances before groups even if those aren’t public speeches. Currently, only public events are included on the daily listing produced by his office, which sometimes show nothing about his plans for that day.

“Gov. Walz has decided that he will provide more information than legally required under the Data Practices Act,” Walz's deputy general counsel Emily Parks said Friday in denying a request for complete disclosure of his calendar. “Going forward, we will be including more information in the daily public schedules.” 

It’s still shy of the new level of transparency he spoke of as a candidate and new governor. 

A few days after his election last year, Walz said in response to a direct question about disclosing his calendar that it would be his “intention” to supply a fuller look at what he does each day.

In February, MPR News filed an official records request for access to the governor’s daily calendar beyond the limited details put out by his office. A formal response came Friday when Parks cited a 1996 advisory opinion about the availability of the calendar for an agency commissioner, classifying it as restricted information about personnel data. 

That opinion by the Department of Administration is routinely cited but has never been challenged in court. 

Walz has spoken repeatedly about the need for more openness in government. In early February, he told an audience at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs that he would work to do that.

“This idea of transparency in government is the only way to win back public trust,” he said at the Humphrey event. “My mantra in life is, you better be willing to say things behind closed doors that you would say publicly.”

Earlier this month, he told a Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists dinner that he valued the role of the press and its accountability role.

Asked about his calendar, Walz said reporters could expect more details about his daily activities and meetings soon.

“It’s my hope that we’re able to do more and give more than has ever been given by the governor’s office,” Walz said.

Suki Dardarian, senior managing editor for the Star Tribune, said she is disappointed that Walz's office denied complete calendar access. She said she would consult with lawyers for the newspaper to discuss further steps to press for disclosure about who gets time with Walz in his office or at the governor's mansion.

"Knowing what a publicly elected official is doing from day-to-day is a basic need for a press corps to know what the governor is doing, who he is meeting with, whether he's coming to work at all," Dardarian said. "And governors and mayors and other elected officials around the country provide that regularly to the press corps in their states."

“Gov. Walz has been quoted several times about being transparent as governor," added Nancy Cassutt, MPR News' Executive Director, News & Programming. "Opening his calendar for everyone to see would be a good move in that direction.”

Former Gov. Mark Dayton and others in the office before him would include meetings with groups or state officials that were not open to reporters or uninvited guests. 

That’s the same approach Walz intends to take. His spokesman Teddy Tschann said Walz would “proactively release more information about what he does on a daily basis at the Capitol.” 

Walz is hardly the first governor to limit inspection of his appointments calendar. 

Dayton also refused to allow the public full access despite saying as a candidate that as an elected servant of the taxpayers that “they have a right to know what I’m doing with my time.” Dayton said then that who he meets with should be disclosed even if the content of their conversations is not.  

Former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty also provided only a tiny glimpse at his day and rejected requests for additional information, relying on legal opinions citing privacy and security concerns.

The availability of calendars of governors differs by state, with some releasing redacted versions months after the fact and others considering it a public document.