FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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December 3, 2013 2:05 PM

From The Republic: LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — The executive director of the Arkansas Republican Party filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to force Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to comply with her public records request for documents his office received from those seeking appointments to state boards or commissions.

Attorneys for Megan Tollett, the state GOP's executive director, filed the lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court. She contends that she submitted her request for the documents under the state's Freedom of Information Act on Oct. 31 and was told the following day by Beebe's office that her request had been denied.

Visit The Republic for more.

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September 24, 2013 1:29 PM

From Arkansas Business: We’ll leave it to the professionals to determine whether Paul Bookout, the former state senator who has admitted to misusing campaign funds, should be charged with a crime (although we’ll confess things aren’t looking good).

Ditto for whether Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s campaign reports amount to worse than exceptionally shoddy bookkeeping.

What we do know is this: Without the state Freedom of Information Act — underused by most Arkansans — we wouldn’t know about either of these cases.

Visit Arkansas Business for more.

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September 13, 2013 11:39 AM

From NFOIC:  A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

Baltimore city open data

image of Access keyData and confidentiality have sparked big stories the past few months. Between Manning and Snowden, there’s been discussion, conspiracy and crime around data that exists and how that data is used. It often seems that the rules under which we must live are shrouded in obscurity. For the average non-law-degreed citizen, specifics on law and governance are hard to find, or had been until now. On July 17th Baltimore became the first city to open its state-level legal information to the public. Essentially, the Baltimore City Charter and Code were liberated through a transition from .pdf to searchable document. The Open Government Foundation (OGF) leads this initiative. OGF implemented The State Decoded, a non-partisan open source project built under the premise of free, friendly, and accessible rule.

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Iowa open meetings lawsuit details council actions

The city of Clinton’s alleged violations of the Open Meetings and Open Records laws leading up to the $4.5 million EMS settlement were detailed in a motion filed by the Citizens for Open Government this week. Members of CFOG are asking a Clinton County judge to declare the city of Clinton violated Iowa’s Open Meetings law and Open Records law when the city discussed the 2010 emergency medical services billing settlement it entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice and former firefighter Tim Schultheis, who alleged the city had incorrectly billed routine ambulance calls as urgent to receive higher reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid.

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Washington appeals court throws out $650,000 records ruling against DSHS

A state appeals court has thrown out one of the largest Public Records Act penalties ever, ruling an abuse victim was not clear enough in her records requests to justify punishing the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). The ruling, issued Tuesday, could erase a penalty of nearly $650,000. But an appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely.

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Ohio counties, cities failing to obey public-records law, Yost says

Ohio’s local governments need to pick up their game when it comes to keeping the people’s records and fulfilling public-records requests, state Auditor Dave Yost says. A sampling of 20 counties and cities for compliance with Sunshine laws found weaknesses in the public-records policies and procedures in eight, or 40 percent, according to results to be released by the auditor’s office today.

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Opinion: Love Hawaii schools? Open the Department of Education's books

The Hawaii Department of Education failed a transparency test in a recent national study. Transparency and accountability are keys to open government and ultimately real education reform. In general, my liberal friends want more money spent on schools and my conservative friends want transparency and accountability. The debate over how to fix our public system will continue.

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California lawmakers put open-government measure on ballot

California voters will get a chance next year to change the state constitution to make sure local government agencies provide open access to public records and meetings. The state Assembly on Tuesday provided final legislative approval of state constitutional Amendment 3, which does not require action by the governor to be placed on the June 2014 ballot.

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Newly released public records from Northeast Florida Public Defender Matt Shirk show an office in crisis

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Public records released today offer a glimpse into the tensions inside the Public Defender's Office in the wake of critical news reports, allegations of wrongdoing and the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate the matter. Hundreds of pages of emails, text messages and personnel files were released today. The records include heated exchanges between Public Defender Matt Shirk and one of his former employees and friends, investigator Alton Kelly.

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Arkansas FOIA Road Show clarifies law for many

For many, Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act is a law that only reporters and others who need access to public records need to know about. But many people, each year, find the need to use FOIA to obtain public records, and frequent changes in the law creates a need for people to know about the changes and how to use the FOIA. The Arkansas Press Association, working with the Arkansas Attorney General's office host a FOIA Roadshow, going to several cities to familiarize seekers and keepers of public documents of changes and their rights under the law.

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Editorial: Keep access to Wisconsin court records

Scarcely a session of the legislature goes by without some politician trotting out a plan to foul up Wisconsin’s exemplary open-records practices. To that end, let us acquaint readers with the opening text of the open records law directly stating the intent as it applies to state government, municipalities, school districts and all units in-between. ... The latest attempt to violate the spirit of that law comes from Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee. He wants to restrict access to certain records contained on Wisconsin’s online court database. The court site is exceedingly popular, drawing 3-5 million page views every day. All the information at the online site clearly is public under the open records law, and the same records are available in paper or electronic form at county courthouses around Wisconsin.

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'Absolutely ridiculous' demand that Davison go through Michigan Freedom of Information request for MDOT information has city leaders fuming

DAVISON, MI – Leaders in Davison say it's ridiculous the city had to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Michigan Department of Transportation to find out why the state agency denied a request for a left-turn arrow at a busy intersection. MDOT told the city to file a FOIA request for a traffic survey, crash data and Synchro analysis measuring traffic congestion. The city had received a letter with a summary letter of a study the at M-15 and Flint Street intersection on the northern end of the city.

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3 Seymour police commissioners violated Conn. FOI law, panel rules

The state Freedom of Information Commission on Wednesday made a final ruling that three Seymour police commissioners “violated” the rules of an executive session last year when they allowed the police chief and lieutenant to sit in during interviews longer than necessary. The commission met Wednesday afternoon, and upheld a preliminary ruling made last month by FOI hearing officer Valicia Harmon.

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September 5, 2013 11:59 AM

From the Arkansas Attorney General:  Arkansas has one of the strongest open meetings and open records laws in the country, yet Arkansans may not know all the mechanics or the applications of the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

That’s why the Attorney General’s Office and the Arkansas Press Association present FOIA “Road Shows” in locations across the state each year.

The workshops are designed to provide assistance to public officials who handle FOIA matters, as well as to any Arkansan who wishes to learn more about the law. Participants hear presentations from FOIA experts from the Attorney General’s Office about the law’s applicability and its exemptions.  Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions about specific parts of the law. A panel of journalists and attorneys familiar with FOIA will discuss practical experiences with the law.

Every FOIA Road Show is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Continue >>

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August 13, 2013 11:34 AM

From The City Wire:  A Pulaski County Circuit Court judge today (Aug. 12) ruled that Secretary of State Mark Martin (R) violated state law by hiring outside legal counsel to the tune of more than $100,000 instead of using attorneys already on staff, or using the Arkansas attorney general's office.

Liberal blogger Matt Campbell had originally sued Martin in July over a violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, when Martin did not provide documents requested in a June 2 FOIA request and would only provide other documents in a format that Campbell had not requested.

In defending the lawsuits, Martin enlisted the services of an attorney from the Little Rock-based law firm of Quattlebaum, Grooms, Tull & Burrow.

Get the rest here.

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July 16, 2013 9:27 AM

From The City Wire:   A Freedom of Information Act request filed with Secretary of State Mark Martin's office on June 2 has partially been fulfilled, but not before a lawsuit was filed to compel Martin's office to turn over the documents in electronic format.

The suit, filed on July 1 by attorney and liberal blogger Matt Campbell of the Blue Hog Report, sought a court order to force Martin's office to turn over documents related to another lawsuit by two former State Capitol police officers, who claim to have been wrongfully terminated from their positions. The former officers have also made claims of racial discrimination in the suits against Martin's office.

The documents were requested in electronic format, though Martin's press secretary, Alex Reed, has attempted to provide some of the documents in physical form.

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April 19, 2013 1:07 PM

Access Freedom of InformationA few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

 

One resident, hundreds of FOI requests keep New Canaan (Conn.) officials busy

Voluminous. That’s one way to characterize the number of Freedom of Information requests that public officials and employees have received from a resident who consistently claims there is corruption within New Canaan’s government. As of Dec. 19, 2012, Michael Nowacki of Lost District Drive filed 158 FOI requests with the town. This year, according to Tom Stadler, the town’s administrative officer, Nowacki has filed around 30.

Visit NCAdvertiser.com for the rest.

Indiana public records board rejects IUS student’s open meetings complaint

INDIANA — The state’s public records board has upheld Indiana University Southeast’s decision to deny a student journalist access to a meeting in which student government members were divvying up student fees. The state’s Office of the Public Access upheld IUS attorney Kiply Drew’s decision to deny student journalist Jeremy Eiler entry to a meeting of the Student Life Committee on the grounds that “it does not fit the definition of a governing body.” The group distributes student fees totaling more than $500,000.

Visit Student Press Law Center for the rest.

Burlington (NC) advised to oppose public records measure

Burlington’s interim city attorney has advised the city council against supporting a bill in the state Senate that would criminalize violations of public meeting and public record laws. At the end of a meeting this week, Mayor Ronnie Wall said he’d been researching Senate Bill 125, which was initially filed Feb. 21, and has since been referred to the Committee on Judiciary I.

Visit Times-News for the rest.

Editorial: Bill dampens accountability

We are concerned that a bill now being considered in the Louisiana Legislature would hamper public accountability for law enforcement officers if the bill becomes a law. House Bill 244, sponsored by State Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, would make law enforcement agencies, as well as officials in charge of police records within those agencies within those agencies, subject to civil damages if they release an officer’s personnel or disciplinary files without the officer’s consent.

Visit theind.com for the rest.

City fights to keep lid on officials' texts & emails

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to appeal a finding that opens the emails and text messages of officials to California's public records law. Activist Ted Smith sued San Jose, its council members and mayor Chuck Reed - who ran as a champion for open government - in 2009 after the city refused Smith's request for emails, texts and voice messages sent or received by officials regarding a downtown redevelopment project. The city had claimed it lacked authority to access records from personal devices or private accounts.

Visit Courthouse News Service for the rest.

FAU quotes student newspaper $17,000 price for records, student says

Student journalist Dylan Bouscher got a bit of sticker shock when he requested public records from Florida Atlantic University. To get three years worth of police reports, Bouscher, who works for the University Press newspaper, was quoted an astronomical $17,000.

Visit Sun-Sentinel for the rest.

CA Legislature kills bill to shield identities of armed teachers

A bill pushed by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly to train and shield armed "school marshals" failed to make it out of the Assembly Education Committee today after a 5-1 vote. Assembly Bill 202 would exempt from public disclosure information on school employees authorized by a superintendent to carry a concealed weapon on campus. Under current law, the California Public Records Act requires disclosure of concealed weapon permit holders.

Visit The Sacramento Bee for the rest.

Councilman makes FOIA request to mayor and council, Arkansas

Blytheville City Councilman R.L. Jones made a public Freedom of Information Act request for 14 items during Tuesday night's Council meeting in the Blytheville District Courtroom. He asked for the information by 4 p.m. Friday. Jones said he requested some of the information in February, but didn't get a response from Mayor James Sanders. Sanders said he told Jones he hadn't seen the letter that the councilman claims he submitted to the mayor's office.

Visit Blytheville Courier News for the rest.

Social media raises open records worries, Wisconsin

Facebook helped a few Eau Claire City Council candidates connect with voters leading up to the April 2 election. But now that they’re serving as public officials, they’ve gotten into the murky area where open government laws are too slow to keep up with ever-changing social media technology.

Visit Leader-Telegram for the rest.

Florida public records lawsuit filed against UCF

According to UCF’s Knight News, LGBT activist, journalist and blogger John Becker filed a lawsuit against UCF seeking access to public records related to a study by researcher Mark Regenerus titled “New Family Structures.” The study, which was cited in oral arguments before the Supreme Court last month, concluded that “children appear most apt to succeed well as adults—on multiple counts and across a variety of domains—when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day.”

Visit Orlando Weekly for the rest.

Fracking chemical disclosure decision appealed to WY Supreme Court

Public interest groups that lost a suit about disclosing fracking chemicals are appealing that decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Groups like Earthjustice and the Powder River Basin Resource Council argue that the separate chemicals used in the fracking process should be public information under the Wyoming Public Records Act. A Wyoming District court Judge sided in March with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as well as industry when it ruled that not disclosing chemical identities when they are deemed a trade secret is permissible. Powder River Basin Resource Council member Marilyn Ham says that’s not right.

Visit Wyoming Public Media for the rest.

April 15, 2013 12:37 PM

From SFGate:

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Robert "Bob" McCord, a journalist who helped craft Arkansas' open records law and spent decades defending it, has died. He was 84.

[...]

McCord retired as an editor at the Arkansas Gazette prior to its acquisition by the Arkansas Democrat in 1992 and, for years, owned the North Little Rock Times.

In an article posted at FOIArkansas.com, McCord noted that the Arkansas Constitution of 1874 gave legislators free rein to conduct business out of the public eye. The document said, "The sessions of each house and of committees of the whole shall be open unless when the business is such as ought to be kept secret."

Passage of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act in 1967 put an end to the practice, McCord wrote.

March 26, 2013 3:23 PM

From SFGate:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Death-row inmates cannot use Arkansas' open records law to obtain information about the origin, history of quality of the drugs the state will use to execute them, a state judge ruled Monday.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Collins Kilgore ruled after a hearing Monday that communication between the Department of Correction and a drug company was not subject to disclosure under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act — even for the inmates who may one day receive a fatal dose.

Six condemned killers sought the information despite a section of the FOI law that limits the release of certain information about execution procedures — including how the drugs are obtained.

March 20, 2013 11:00 AM

From TheCabin.net:

Thank goodness the legislators across the state let us know they support Arkansas’ vanguard Freedom of Information Act. Routinely, they begin conversations saying, “I support the Freedom of Information Act.” If a “but” follows that opening clause, well, at least we know where they stand about the people’s right to know what their government is doing.

And that’s a good thing. Without those protests, we’d have doubts about their commitment to FOIA.

Last month, those in the General Assembly who support the Freedom of Information Act demonstrated their support by exempting from it the names of those who have licenses to carry concealed weapons.

Also, the Senate joined its unanimous support to the state House’s overwhelming support (81-7) of the Freedom of Information in SB 1216 by designating Internet publication the primary means of making public state agency reports.

 

January 11, 2013 11:51 AM

Image of keyboard key "Access"A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

University of Iowa ordered to release settlement agreement

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa must release a settlement agreement with a former medical school employee who was allowed to quietly resign after a personnel dispute, a state appeals panel ruled yesterday. The Iowa Court of Appeals ruled the settlement with the former employee is a public record and should be released in response to an open-records request by the Associated Press, which was filed nearly two years ago. The public has the right to know how university money is used to settle disputes among faculty members, the court added.

Visit First Amendment Center for the rest.

Incoming Indiana governor plans 'transparency portal' for public to track economic development activities

INDIANAPOLIS — Incoming Gov. Mike Pence plans to launch a new "transparency portal" this spring to enable the public to track Indiana's economic development spending and the jobs created by companies that receive those tax credits and incentives. He said Thursday that money to pay for the portal's launch will be included in the two-year budget his administration will present to state lawmakers next week. He said the Indiana Economic Development Corp. is already working on the effort, and said the portal will provide "specific information having to do with incentives and outcomes" once businesses announce their plans to add jobs.

Visit Evansville Courier & Press for the rest.

Idaho governor says new state website is public records request 'on steroids'

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Controller Brandon Woolf announced http://transparent.idaho.gov Thursday. Otter said the site was akin to public records requests "on steroids," while Woolf said the site's information would be updated nightly, to provide up-to-the-day snapshots of what's happening in state government.

Visit KBOI2.com for the rest.

Opinion from Blytheville Courier News: Reviewing Arkansas' open government law

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act is vital to ensuring an open, transparent government. FOIA is a tool used by the news media to keep the public informed of the public's business, but it is not exclusively for the media. The law is also there for Joe Citizen to get a copy of a police report, to be notified of public meetings at least two hours in advance, to look at financial figures, etc. ... The entire FOIA handbook is available at http://www.arkansaspress.org/publications/38-foi-handbook, but here are a few general questions and answers from the handbook.

Visit Blytheville Courier News for the rest.

Madison (Wis.) launches open data platform

Madison, Wis., is changing things up -- all in an effort to promote innovation and economic growth in the city. On Jan. 8, city officials announced the launch of its open data ordinance and a more accessible open data platform. Thus far, only one other city in the country, New York City, has implemented an ordinance mandating widespread government release of data, according to officials. The city, officials said, is making open data projects a high priority. The new ordinance will require agencies to eventually release most of their data in raw format and make it available for download through the city's new open data Web portal.

Visit Government Technology for the rest.

Lakeland (Fl.) Police Department may be violating Florida's public records law

The Lakeland Police Department may be violating Florida's public records law by refusing to provide The Ledger documents requested on seven teenagers, according to Tampa lawyer Gregg Thomas, who represents the newspaper. Thomas reviewed emails between LPD's lawyer, Roger Mallory, and The Ledger, which on Dec. 6 requested "all Lakeland police reports, complaint affidavits, charging documents and any other official records" relating to Bernardo Copeland Jr., charged with the Nov. 24 shooting and robbery of Ralph Harper, and six other teens charged in that case. The Ledger is seeking records involving the teens' criminal histories before the shooting of Harper at the Lakeland Farmers' Market.

Visit TheLedger.com for the rest.

December 17, 2012 10:30 AM

AP analysis from Arkansas Business News:

LITTLE ROCK — The state law guaranteeing Arkansans' right to open records and meetings is safe for now. That doesn't mean there aren't people with gripes about the law who want to see it changed.
 
The Arkansas Supreme Court's ruling this month that a judge was wrong to toss out part of the state's Freedom of Information Act as unconstitutional means the Legislature will avoid re-opening a debate over the nearly 46-year-old law. It also highlighted the holes that both sides in the case say they eventually want lawmakers to resolve.

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