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Fergus Falls committee fails to provide data on ice arena donors

A woman on the Fergus Falls, Minn., ice arena fundraising committee said Tuesday she is not ready to give up fundraising data that a state agency declared is public information.

"I'm not ready to do that at this time. I have to talk with our committee and we can get back to you," Lisa Ahlgren said in a brief telephone conversation.

The Forum is seeking the names and amounts pledged or donated by firms, groups or individuals toward the cost of a proposed arena. Supporters say they've raised more than $3 million.

The arena will also be built using $4 million in city funds, and $1.6 million in land and equipment shared with the School District.

Fergus Falls voters in November approved using a sales tax to pay for the city's share of the cost, though the tax must still be approved by the Legislature. If the tax is not approved, the burden could fall on property taxpayers.

The Forum contends that the fundraising data is public under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.

That was bolstered by an opinion issued on Sept. 14 by state Commissioner of Administration Sheila Reger.

After the opinion was issued, The Forum requested a list of contributors from the city. The city said it didn't have the names and on Oct. 19, Fergus Falls City Attorney Rolf Nycklemoe sent a letter to Ahlgren of the fundraising committee requesting information being sought by The Forum.

The Forum still hasn't received a list of donors from the fundraising committee and again contacted Nycklemoe about why the city has not collected and provided the data as required by law according to Reger's opinion.

Nycklemoe said he sent another letter, dated Dec. 7, to Ahlgren asking her committee to provide the data to the city or directly to The Forum. He said the group hasn't responded, and he doesn't know what actions the city can take to force the fundraising group to comply with state law.

Nycklemoe said he also sent a letter dated Dec. 7 to the commissioner of administration's office seeking guidance in the case.

Reger's opinion states the city was supposed to have received the data on a monthly basis from the Fergus Falls 544 Education Foundation and the fundraising committee, and has failed to comply with Minnesota statutes in not producing the data.

Reger ruled that the foundation and fundraising committee were performing a public function as part of their deal with the city to build the arena, and that all of the fundraising data in this case is public.

Nycklemoe said monthly meetings have not been held as originally agreed between city officials and the fundraisers and that no data has been exchanged.

He said the city has no more data than what was turned over to The Forum in mid-October by the 544 Education Foundation.

Kristi Hastings, the attorney representing the foundation, said the foundation also has no other fundraising information other than what was provided in October.

At that time, the Forum received a spreadsheet that listed about $210,000 in donations and pledges.

Listed were $69,005 in donations, plus about $142,680 in pledges from various businesses and individuals through 2019 in some cases.