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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May 23, 2013 2:29 PM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:  The operator of a website that publishes jail-booking pictures sued Salt Lake County on Tuesday for refusing his request for photographs of people admitted to the Salt Lake County Jail during 17 days in January.

Kyle Prall and his company, Information Freedom, LLC, are asking a 3rd District Court judge to overturn a County Council decision April 9 that upheld Sheriff Jim Winder’s rejection of an application — through the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) — for 1,388 "mug shots" of people booked into the jail between Jan. 11 and Jan. 27.

 

February 18, 2013 10:09 AM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

The State Records Committee’s first ruling Thursday was bittersweet for board members and came without hearing a word of testimony.

The seven-member panel honored its departing chairwoman with a formal order recognizing Betsy Ross for her 18 years on the committee, a stint spanning the history of Utah’s current open-records law.



February 1, 2013 1:43 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.

 

This time around, North Carolina open-government law may win

By national standards, North Carolina has fairly good open records and open meetings laws, but in practice those statutes often fall short. Elected officials and bureaucrats alike often turn away members of the public seeking publicly owned information. ... But this year, Goolsby may not be so easy to ignore. He’s re-filed the bill and it’s going to the same committee, Senate Judiciary I, that dismissed it in 2011. The big difference is that in 2013 he is the co-chairman of that committee and can almost guarantee that it will be discussed.

Visit Editorial from the Winston-Salem Journal for the rest.

Sierra Club wins public records ruling against Port of Coos Bay

COOS BAY — The Oregon chapter of The Sierra Club has won the latest round in its effort to get public records from the Port of Coos Bay about plans to export coal. The World newspaper reported Thursday that Circuit Judge Paula Bechtold has ruled the port violated public records law and the Sierra Club's constitutional rights when it demanded $19,000 to produce the records.

Visit The Oregonian for the rest.

Advocates say FOIA reform badly needed, but others say bill needs changes

COLUMBIA — South Carolina residents who say they have faced great difficulty in obtaining public information from government bodies are urging state representatives to approve a measure that would reform the state’s open-records law. The bill by Aiken GOP Rep. Bill Taylor would force bodies such as state agencies and local school boards to respond more quickly to requests for public information, and restrict what those bodies can charge for the information.

Visit The Post and Courier for the rest.

SC Citizens, government agencies share differing visions on public records proposal

COLUMBIA, SC -- A bill aimed at curbing excessive fees levied against people requesting public information and ensuring those requests are filled in a timely manner will get another look by a state House panel. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, the bill seeks to amend the state's Freedom of Information Act — the state law regulating public records requests.

Visit MyrtleBeachOnline.com for the rest.

Keep public records accessible

Citizens should not have to pay a tax to obtain information from public officials. Yet that is exactly what a draft bill in the Wisconsin Assembly would propose by allowing government agencies to charge for time spent deleting confidential information from documents.

Visit Editorial from LaCrosseTribune.com for the rest.

WA lawmaker’s bill another assault on Public Records Act

On the Capitol Campus today, lawmakers are debating a bill that would undermine the transparency of state government by making it more difficult for a citizen to obtain public records. Ever since Washington voters approved an initiative creating the 1972 Public Records Act – by an overwhelming 72 percent yes vote – public agencies and elected officials have been doing their best to make it less effective.

Visit Editorial from the Olympian for the rest.

Naval Postgraduate School has public records request backlog

Attempts to get public information about many taxpayer-funded military institutions can be as difficult as getting past the armed guards at their gates. That includes the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, where staff members were essentially gagged after two of the school's top officials were unceremoniously removed from office. Their contracts and other information, widely considered to be public information, have been withheld during what is likely to be a long and laborious process under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Visit MontereyHerald.com for the rest.

Some NC Leaders Fighting To Remove Public Access To Gun Permit Records

HENDERSON COUNTY, N.C. -- There is a push for a new ban in North Carolina. Some leaders want to keep personal information contained in gun permits out of public view. ... North Carolina law requires people to first obtain a permit from their local sheriff’s office before buying a handgun, though it’s not needed for the purchase of shotguns and rifles.

Visit WSPA.com for the rest.

Public records requests may require extra staff in Teaneck, NJ

If requests for public records keep pouring in at the current pace, extra staff may be needed to help the township respond to each of the requests within the state-mandated time period, Teaneck Manager William Broughton told the council last week. ... One recent request involved staff members from several departments in town working to respond, Broughton told the council. In response to another recent request, an employee spent about eight hours putting together a group of bills, copying them and compiling information.

Visit NorthJersey.com for the rest.

'Grandma of GRAMA' eases public records access

FARMINGTON, Utah — Yvonne Christensen is Davis County’s “grandma of GRAMA,” and on Tuesday was recognized as such by the Davis County Commission. Christensen, 59, received on Jan. 8 a records officer certification from the State Division of Archives. The certification allows Christensen to officially oversee and respond to the numerous Government Records Access Management Act requests the county receives from the public and media in search of a public document.

Visit the Standard-Examiner for the rest.

November 19, 2012 2:06 PM

From Daily Herald:

SALT LAKE CITY -- A state panel upheld a new policy by the Utah Department of Corrections that limits the number of documents it provides free of charge to inmates.

However, prisons must find a way for inmates to review records they can't afford to have copied, the panel said.

The ruling stemmed from an appeal filed by indigent inmate Michael Luesse, who made three record requests in May under the state's Government Records Access and Management Act. He learned more than a month later about the new policy that caps free copies at 100 pages per inmate annually.

 

November 6, 2012 10:31 AM

From Salt Lake Tribune:

With the reconstructed Interstate 15 in Utah County open, it is fitting to look back at the role open records played in the controversial project.
 
The $1.1 billion I-15 Corridor Reconstruction saw the highway and many interchanges rebuilt, and had thousands of drivers weaving around orange construction barrels for more than two years. But there were also allegations that Provo River Constructors received the contract through political connections rather than through merit.

November 5, 2012 10:57 AM

Column from Salt Lake Tribune:

In the wake of the Utah Legislature’s failed attempt to gut the state’s public records access law — the Government Records Access Management Act, or GRAMA — the news media often have been under attack from politicians, legislators and government bureaucrats.
 
But the taxpayer-funded Utah Transit Authority may have struck a new low, or a new high, depending on your point of view. The agency filed a brief with the State Records Committee that claimed The Salt Lake Tribune committed a criminal act for, well, doing its job.
 
[...]
 
The Tribune and UTA are in a battle before the State Records Committee over the newspaper’s attempt to obtain crime statistics under GRAMA.

November 2, 2012 10:52 AM

image of AccessA 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:

Grant could help with West Virginia's records storage problem

PARKERSBURG (Nov 2, 2012) - A grant application for $17,000 will be submitted to the West Virginia Records Management and Preservation Board of the West Virginia Archives and History Division seeking help with records storage issues. ... The RMPB was created by the West Virginia Legislature in 2000 to develop a system of records management and preservation for county governments. Funding for the grants program comes from filing fees collected by county clerks and deposited in the special Public Records and Preservation Account.

Visit NewsandSentinel.com for the rest.

IN gubernatorial candidates weigh in on making government more accountable

(Nov 2, 2012) - In the race to become Indiana's next Governor, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Mike Pence say they'd like to make Indiana government more open and accountable. But they're offering few ideas on how they'd do it. ... The Indiana Coalition For Open Government posted those answers from the candidates online this week.

Visit TristateHomepage.com for the rest.

Candidates for N.C. governor support prying open some government records

(Nov 2, 2012) - The main candidates for governor say they favor taking some steps to make state government more transparent, but both avoid sweeping promises about opening up many more records than are already public. In recent interviews, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory were generally in agreement when asked about disclosing more state employee personnel records, improving campaign finance reporting, making public ethics complaints and releasing their daily calendars. Both expressed concern about protecting employees’ and office-holders’ privacy while acknowledging the need to balance the public’s interest in monitoring state government.

Visit Winston-Salem Journal for the rest.

Greenwood (S.C.) school district refuses FOI request

(Nov 2, 2012) - GREENWOOD — Greenwood School District 50 is refusing to turn over information about the resignation of a high school volleyball coach to a newspaper. The Index-Journal of Greenwood filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the personnel file and emails concerning the employment of Emerald volleyball coach Gina Sargent.

Visit GreenvilleOnline.com for the rest.

Sarasota advisory boards dogged by Florida's costly Sunshine Law missteps

(Nov 1, 2012) - Government-in-the-Sunshine Law and public record missteps have cost Sarasota about $100,000 in legal fees since this spring and local attorney Andrea Mogensen's firm has garnered the majority of the money. The firm doggedly monitors local government for missteps and last week filed a suit claiming Sarasota's advisory boards have a widespread problem: Members conducting public business through private email accounts, text messages and social media.

Visit Herald-Tribune for the rest.

Have you ever used Utah's GRAMA? I’d like to share your story

(Nov 1, 2012) - People usually think of open government laws such as Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) , as tools for journalists. ... While journalists use the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), GRAMA and the open meetings act to hold elected officials and government agencies accountable, the laws were meant for the general public. Anyone can use those laws to see how government works, and to call bureaucrats and elected officials out when it doesn’t.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

October 19, 2012 9:09 AM

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:

Records reveal Boston police spy on political and peace groups

BOSTON -- October 18, 2012. Boston Police routinely spy on ordinary citizens engaged in peaceful, First Amendment-protected activity, creating criminal "intelligence reports" on lawful political activity of peace groups and local leaders, according to public records and surveillance video released today by the National Lawyers Guild Massachusetts Chapter and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

Boston Police officers make video recordings of peaceful demonstrations and track activists as well as the internal workings of political groups--even when there is no indication of criminal activity or a threat to public safety. The documents reveal that officers assigned to the BPD's regional domestic spying center, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC), file so-called "intelligence reports" mischaracterizing peaceful groups such as Veterans for Peace, United for Justice with Peace and CodePink as "extremists," and peaceful protests as domestic "homeland security" threats and civil disturbances. These searchable records are retained for years, in violation of federal regulations, and were turned over to the ACLU and NLG only after they sued for access on behalf of local peace groups and activists.

Visit ENews Park Forest for the rest.

Email privacy: Court ruling offers workable approach

The Alaska Supreme Court seems to have taken a reasonable approach to the difficult issues raised by the use of private email accounts by state employees to communicate about state business. ... The state administration, for the moment, requires employees to copy all emails having to do with state business to the state email system. Theoretically, everything is captured for later review, if necessary. Of course, in the real world, that might not always happen. So it’s good that the court affirmed that communications found solely in private email accounts are not necessarily protected from the public eye.

Visit Fairbanks Daily News-Miner for the rest.

UConn denies it has copy of deal with Webster Bank

STORRS, Conn. — The University of Connecticut says it doesn't have a copy of the multi-million dollar contract that makes Webster Bank a major marketing partner of the school. UConn announced in July that Webster had become a major "multi-media partner" and said the marketing deal would "encompasses all aspects of the university." Among other things, the deal calls for the bank and the school names to appear together in media campaigns and on signs at sports venues.

Visit Norwich Bulletin for the rest.

Los Angeles Times claims school district is violating public records law

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The Los Angeles Times claims Los Angeles Unified School District is violating public records law by refusing to release records tying teachers, by name, to the expected and actual test scores of their students. The Times asked a Superior Court judge to order LAUSD to deliver the records the newspaper requested under California Public Records Act.

Visit Courthouse News Service for the rest.

Officials must respect open government

Too many officials in the city have too little respect for open government. It's a complaint we've made about many, including leaders of the Board of Representatives and the WPCA, and now we're back at the Board of Education where board President Polly Rauh again has worked to keep public business away from the public's eyes.

Visit Stamford Advocate for the rest.

Price FOIA amendment would expand exceptions to public records law

Lansing, Mich. — State Rep. Amanda Price was disturbed by the type of data available to the public, she said. An amendment she proposed to the Freedom of Information Act would close the door on disputes such as one in Park Township over what information is available when a person takes out building permits.

Visit The Holland Sentinel for the rest.

Houston No. 13 in Texas for attempts to deny public records

Among the 20 largest cities in Texas, Houston ranks No. 13 for asking Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to keep government information a secret, the Texas Tribune reports. Data from the Center for Public Integrity shows Houston made 882 submissions to Abbott last year to withhold information sought by citizens under the Texas Public Information Act, the Tribune reports. With 41 rulings per 100,000 people, Houston ranks behind a number of smaller cities, including many in the Dallas area.

Visit Houston Business Journal for the rest.

Dallas-area suburbs lead in attempts to deny public records

Among the state’s biggest cities, several sprawling Dallas-area suburbs tallied the highest rate of requests to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott last year to keep government information secret, according to a recent examination by the Center for Public Integrity. The probe examined the number of attempts by the 20 largest Texas cities to block public requests for information in 2011, then looked at how those numbers stacked up for each city, according to the rate of requests per 100,000 population.

Visit Texas Tribune for the rest.

Group protests lack of public hearing for Utah records nominee

There will be no public hearing on Gov. Gary Herbert’s appointment to the State Records Committee of a former legislator and staunch supporter of HB477 — legislation critics say would have stymied public access to government records. Holly Richardson, who also is a conservative blogger, is expected to be confirmed Wednesday by the full state Senate to the records committee that hears appeals on public documents requested through the state Government Records Access and Management Act. ... The Alliance for a Better UTAH, a nonprofit progressive organization that unsuccessfully requested a public hearing, scolded the Government Operations Confirmation Committee in a statement Tuesday.

Visit Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

October 1, 2012 1:58 PM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

On paper, Utah’s records law looks pretty straightforward, but in practice some records requests in small Utah towns can lead to deep fissures with personal attacks and legal maneuvering.

[...]

Ken Cromar represents Cedar Hills Citizens for Responsible Government. Cromar could be straight out of central casting, as he has taken on the role of the crusading everyman. He and his group believe there is something rotten at City Hall. There’s good reason to suspect something’s fishy. While the former mayor was cleared in a city audit, he admitted to financial wrongdoing in his personal business. In addition, questions about the financial health of a controversial golf course and clubhouse come up frequently in conversations.

August 23, 2012 1:44 PM

Opinion from Deseret News editorial:

The Utah Legislature's refusal to release records it agrees are public without recouping the expense of compiling the documents is a bad decision that cheapens the state's commitment to open government.
 
The records in question detail the deliberations involved during the recent redistricting process, in which four Congressional precincts were drawn. Public interest groups, news organizations and the state Democratic Party have petitioned for full release of the documents, but the state has refused until someone pays the $14,250 the state claims it cost to produce the records.

August 21, 2012 10:31 AM

From Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Democrats are stuck with a $14,000 bill for public documents after the Legislative Records Committee voted 3-1 on Monday to deny the party's appeal for a fee waiver.
 
Party officials say the documents — approximately 16,000 pages of emails, correspondence and other records generated by the Legislature's redistricting process — are being sought in the public interest. But committee members argued that the Utah Democrats' request falls short of state policy for waiving fees.
 
[...]
 
Joel Campbell, an associate journalism professor at BYU and media watchdog, testified before the committee in favor of granting the fee waiver. He argued that because the requested documents deal with constitutional rights and voter district information, they carry a greater public interest than many open records requests received by the Legislature.

March 22, 2012 4:30 PM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:

Last year about this time, most Utah media organizations, and a great many of our readers, listeners and viewers, were in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out political battle with members of the Utah Legislature. The issue was HB477, a stealth measure that leapt out in the closing days of the session and tore the heart out of the state’s open-records act.

The response was both a concerted campaign by the professionals in the Utah Media Coalition (including The Salt Lake Tribune) and a popular outcry by a great many others, all urging that the law be repealed. In less than a month, it was.

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