The Minnesota Department of Administration announced Monday the independent investigation into the Shakopee school district’s “operational health” — otherwise known as the NeuVest report — is public.
The report, completed by a third-party company called NeuVest, giving the report its name, was turned over to the Shakopee Police Department in 2017 as evidence when questions began swirling around former Superintendent Rod Thompson. Thompson was sentenced in May in federal and state courts to two years prison on swindling and embezzlement charges.
The Shakopee Valley News requested a copy of the report from the Shakopee Police Department earlier this year, but it was withheld due to a disagreement about data privacy laws between the police department and the school district. An earlier version of the report, released by the district in 2017, was heavily redacted.
In its official decision, the DOA advised the city to release the report, saying when the Thompson investigation was over, the NeuVest report became public data in the hands of the city and remained private in the hands of the district. The school district could not prevent the police department from releasing the report, since the two entities are separate.
“The issue of data classified by one statute at an entity… 'traveling' to another entity and changing classifications… did not apply to the data at issue,” Commissioner of Administration Alice Roberts-Davis said.
Ahead of the DOA's decision, the department asked for comments from both the city and the Valley News regarding why the report should be public.
The city’s opinion request, which was sent to the DOA on Aug. 7, read in part: “It is the City's opinion that the NeuVest Report is now public pursuant to this statute. Since the Shakopee Valley News' data practices request for a copy of the report was made to the City, the City must provide the report. The City and the District disagree with respect to whether or not the NeuVest Report is public when it is in the hands of the City.”
The Valley News' comment, in part read: "Local leaders, whether appointed, hired or elected, are trusted to be good stewards for the people they serve. The citizens of Shakopee deserve absolute transparency, which is why the full NeuVest report, which contains insight on the district’s overall health, should be released in its full, unredacted form."
On May 30, the school district’s attorney, Stephen Knutson, sent a letter to Shakopee Police Chief Jeff Tate saying, “the police department is prohibited from providing the complete unredacted report to the public” because of private data contained in it. A June 13 response letter from Sarah Sonsalla, the police department’s attorney, said because the report is in the hands of the city, and the investigation is complete, the report should be made public.
“It is my understanding that Mr. Thompson has plead guilty to and has been sentenced for his crimes,” the letter said. “Therefore… all investigative data are public as there is no ongoing investigation that would be jeopardized by the release.”
Knutson pushed back, saying because the NeuVest report contains private information under the jurisdiction of the school district, that privacy also applies to the police department.
“Data in the hands of a law enforcement agency that are classified as private under other statutes retain its private classification under those statutes even after the investigation has become inactive.”
On June 21, Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond released a statement saying the school district was "working diligently" to avoid violation of date privacy laws.
"These data privacy laws are complex and violation of the laws is a very serious legal offense that carries stiff penalties," the statement said. "The school district is currently making a joint request, along with the city of Shakopee, to obtain an opinion on this data privacy matter from the Minnesota Department of Administration.”
When the Valley News called the Department of Administration on Aug. 6, Katie Bealka from the data practices office said it still had not received a joint opinion request from the school district and city. The district said it was disappointed by the slow pace of the process. Tate said the reason the joint request had not been submitted was because the school district continued to go back and forth with the city in attempts to edit the police department's original letter to the state department.
On Aug. 7, Shakopee Public Schools released a statement saying the district and the city would no longer file the request together, explaining that any public data requests to view the NeuVest report were made to the police department, so the city has "always controlled the final decision as to whether to make a joint request, a lone request, or to not send a request to the Department of Administration."
Shakopee City Administrator Bill Reynolds said in a statement following the district’s announcement:
"It is unfortunate that the school district seeks to shift responsibility to the city for the continued failure to release the NeuVest report. Our position has been clear. We believe the vast part of the document to be public data. The district has blocked our action and has spent the last month debating the cover letter that should be attached to submit it to the state. That ended (Wednesday). We look forward to this being behind us all and moving forward."
Tate echoed Reynolds' frustration, saying he was disappointed in the school district's press release that "shifted the blame" onto the city. The city decided to move forward on its own with the request because it was tired of the back-and-forth with the district, he said.
'Clarity and closure'
Redmond said in a statement to the Valley News Monday morning that “Shakopee Public Schools is appreciative of the work done by the Department of Administration to make a determination on the NeuVest report. As we have mentioned multiple times in the preceding months, we have been awaiting the decision of the Department of Administration to provide clarity on this complex matter. Now that such a decision has been made, there is both clarity and closure on this matter.”
Jeff Tate said he’s “glad it’s over,” adding, “hopefully this is another step towards moving forward.”
The district spent nearly $75,000 on the report and related legal costs, which began accumulating in 2017. The NeuVest investigation cost $56,733.72, according to the district, and the process of redacting the information cost an additional $15,179.95.
Editor's note: The Valley News again requested a copy of the unredacted report on Monday, Sept. 16.