Policy: Civil Servant Accountability Complaint System
I was attending a town hall in Thief River Falls in April of 2019 when a resident stood up and expressed their frustration at trying to file a complaint with the state about the way they feel they were treated by a DNR officer. They implored the elected officials there to try to find the appropriate form they were supposed to fill out anywhere on the state’s website, and made the claim it was nearly impossible.
I decided to take them up on their challenge and found their description of the situation to be spot on. As we talk about increasing accountability for police officers in Minnesota, we should take this opportunity to ensure all civil servants are held to a high standard. If anyone has an issue with an employee of the state, they should be able to file a complaint and the whole process needs to be as transparent as possible.
Minnesota is a state that does value public accountability. We are one of only 12 states in the country in which disciplinary records of state employees are public by default. If you would like to read the exact list of what is public information, you can find it here.
So developing a better system to file the complaints to be able to increase accountability is the natural next step. Such a system must include:
Accessibility to ensure any person regardless of age, residency, language ability, or disability can effectively use it.
Transparency so that the moment a complaint is filed, it is on the public record unless there is a compelling safety or confidentiality reason to keep it private.
The ability to file a complaint about something that affected you personally or something you saw that affected someone else.
A guarantee that all complaints will receive some degree of investigation.
Both digital and paper methods of filing a complaint that are publicly available and easy to find.
Integration of the already publicly available information into a searchable database.
Such a system is not a cure-all for misbehavior from public employees, but sunshine is a great disinfectant and it is easier to address a systemic or personal problem if the problem can be readily identified. Ensuring our conversations on these topics have all the information possible and are happening in the public’s eye is how we increase accountability and trust that the state of Minnesota is actually behaving with our best interests in mind.