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Published May 03 2010

Fergus Falls ice arena donors may be subject to open records laws

Last month, The Forum approached the Fergus Falls (Minn.) 544 Education Foundation for information about individuals and groups making pledges toward a new ice arena in town.

The foundation, a nonprofit organization, collects the pledges on behalf of the city and the Fergus Falls Ice Arena Fundraising Committee.

Generally, such nonprofits aren’t subject to state open record laws that apply to governmental entities. But Mark Anfinson, the attorney for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, says that because the foundation is collecting pledges for a project the city will eventually own and operate, information about its performance of that task should be public.

Kristi Hastings, an attorney at Fergus Falls’ Pemberton, Sorlie, Rufer & Kershner and a board member of the foundation, disagrees. In a written response to The Forum’s data request, she stresses state statutes only apply to private organizations that help entities perform their governmental functions.

“The 544 Foundation is not performing any governmental function,” Hastings wrote, “but instead is simply serving as a facilitator for collections of private donations, which are solicited by the Fergus Falls Ice Arena Fundraising Committee and transferred to the City of Fergus Falls.”

The Forum is requesting an advisory opinion on the matter from the Minnesota Department of Administration, which frequently weighs in on data practices issues.