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 10, 2013 12:18 PM

From NJ.com: After receiving about 10 boot void sheets from a source, The Jersey Journal filed an Open Public Records Act request on Oct. 24 seeking all sheets the JCPA has on record for the last three years.

On Nov. 6, JCPA attorney Aurelio Vincitore denied the newspaper’s request, saying that releasing the sheets would “substantially interfere with the state or federal government’s ability to protect and defend its citizens against acts of sabotage or terrorism if disclosed.”

Visit NJ.com for more.

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December 10, 2013 10:37 AM

From USA Today: TRENTON, N.J. -- In advance of an expected 2016 presidential campaign, Chris Christie's administration is stepping up efforts to control the Republican governor's image at all costs — even skirting sunshine laws that permit public access to government records.

Getting the Christie administration to release its grip of records tracking use of federal recovery money for Superstorm Sandy has been particularly difficult for watchdog groups and media outlets, including the Asbury Park Press.

The Fair Share Housing Center recently received the first detailed information about housing recovery programs supported by federal grants — only after suing the administration for not complying with a public records request.

Visit USA Today for more.

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November 15, 2013 12:13 PM

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.

R.I. activist files open-records complaint in search for information on payments made to House Speaker Fox

image of Access keyPROVIDENCE — The citizen-activist who filed an ethics complaint against House Speaker Gordon D. Fox in connection with his role as a closing attorney for the troubled Providence Economic Development Partnership loan program has now filed a related open-records complaint with the attorney general’s office. Judith Reilly lodged the open-records complaint against the PEDP after the city agency advised her it had no records of how much Fox was paid for his services as PEDP’s closing attorney from 2005 through early 2010. The complaint is pending.

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Ombudsman warns ruling could lead to Iowa open meeting violations

A ruling Thursday by a state board opens the door for Iowa governments to elude a law requiring that the public be given at least 24-hour notice before meetings are held, Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider warned. That warning came in a meeting just before the Iowa Public Information Board, an enforcement body of the state’s public meeting and open record laws, voted unanimously in favor of a ruling written by the board’s director, Keith Luchtel.

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N.J. court upholds OPRA request by Northern Valley Regional parents

Hackensack — Northern Valley Regional High School parents, who said that the school board did not comply with the Open Public Records Act to provide access to records regarding a random drug testing policy, received a small victory when a Bergen County judge ruled that the school district must turn over fifty-seven documents for his review. Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Doyne rejected the district’s argument that the request made by a group of parents for the documents was improper at a hearing on Nov. 7, and ruled that the district must send 57 withheld documents regarding random drug testing to the court for further review.

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Editorial: Public has a right to yawn

To take a famous Shakespeare quote and turn it on its ear: “A thorn by any other name would be as sharp.” In New Hampshire, it’s called the Right-to-Know Law. They call it the Public Records Law in Vermont, the Public Records Act in Massachusetts and it’s known as the Sunshine Law in Florida. At the federal level, it’s known as the Freedom of Information Act.

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Editorial: Bringing Mass. into the digital age

Easy access to public records is necessary for government accountability. But Massachusetts’ public record law is out of date. State agencies routinely charge 20 cents a page for documents that can be delivered in an electronic format, and requests for documents often go months without reply. Fortunately, an amendment filed by Representative Peter Kocot of Northampton would correct these deficiencies. Legislators should embrace it.

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Limits on fees for public records passed by Michigan House committee

LANSING — Public bodies would be limited in what they could charge for copying public records under the Freedom of Information Act under a bill passed by a House committee Tuesday. The bill would allow public bodies to charge $0.10 per page for documents requested by anyone under the Freedom of Information Act. They also could charge labor costs of up to three times the minimum wage in Michigan of $7.40 per hour.

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News groups appeal order to seal court records, Idaho

BOISE, Idaho -- A coalition of news organizations has asked a federal appeals court to order the release of sealed witness testimony and exhibits in an antitrust trial involving the expansion of a health care system. The organizations challenged a protective order issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill that allowed attorneys for St. Luke's Health System, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, the Federal Trade Commission and others to keep a large amount of testimony and evidence hidden from public view.

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Former Washington auditor calls for public access to records

PASCO – “Creating open public records is not a partisan issue,” said Brian Sonntag, former Washington state auditor. “Citizens have the right to expect nothing less.” Sonntag’s comments were made at the Pasco Red Lion yesterday morning, Tuesday, during the Washington Policy Center’s first-ever Solutions Summit.

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Tennessee DCS posts documents relating to child deaths

The Department of Children’s Services will now post on its website documents relating to its internal investigations into the deaths and near deaths of children. The agency already has posted more than 3,600 pages of documents relating to the deaths or injuries suffered by 64 children in Tennessee during the last half of 2012. All identifying information has been redacted.

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Will open data make Honolulu gov’t more transparent?

The Honolulu City Council today unanimously passed an open data bill that aims to make government more transparent. If Mayor Kirk Caldwell signs the bill it will essentially help to open up reams of government statistics and data in a format that can be manipulated to build apps, create visualizations of complex information and help citizens analyze government services.

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Duffey looks to streamline access to public records in Ohio

State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) has introduced a series of bills designed to make it easier to find and understand data about local and state government. Called the DataOhio Initiative, the program would promote open standards and make Ohio government more accountable to Ohioans, he said.

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Groveland Mayor Jim Gearhart quits amid Sunshine-law probe

GROVELAND — Mayor Jim Gearhart, who's been under fire from residents and city employees amid an investigation for possible Sunshine Law violations, stepped down on Wednesday. Gearhart, a member of the City Council since 2007 who was elected mayor last year, blamed "politics" and "brutal attacks" for his resignation in a letter he delivered to Interim City Manager Willie Morgan.

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Florida appeals court rules teacher data is public record

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A Florida appeals court says that data used to prepare teacher evaluations is a public record. The 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday sided with The Florida Times-Union in a lawsuit the newspaper filed against the Florida Department of Education.

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October 22, 2013 11:28 AM

From NJ.com: PITTSGROVE TWP. — The acting township clerk violated a law by failing to provide requested documents to a resident under the Open Public Records Act, according to state officials.

Steve Wymbs was found to be in violation, according to the New Jersey Government Records Council, after he was unable to locate and produce less than 3 percent of the total requested documents from resident Norman Lenchitz.

Visit NJ.com for more.

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October 22, 2013 9:41 AM

From Watchdog.org: Should New Jersey officials be allowed to keep forever secret a criminal investigation on alleged corruption involving a prominent elected official?

Or does the public have a right to know what the state found – and how authorities handled a probe rife with conflicts of interest?

Those questions are at the heart of a court battle between state Division of Criminal Justice and a New Jersey Watchdog reporter. At stake is the release of records likely to implicate Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno in a scheme that cost a public pension fund nearly a quarter-million dollars.

Visit Read More

October 3, 2013 8:16 AM

From NorthJersey.com: A group of parents has sued the Northern Valley Regional Board of Education, claiming it did not comply with state open-records law by providing access to some documentation of official discussion about a random drug-testing policy.

Bruce Rosen of Florham Park, the attorney representing the parents, claimed the district violated the Open Public Records Act because it did not give the requested information in a timely manner and when it was finally delivered, important documents were withheld.

Visit NorthJersey.com for more.

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September 27, 2013 10:45 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.

YH-R, TV stations earn Washington open government award

image of Access keyThe Washington Coalition for Open Government on Thursday presented the Yakima Herald-Republic and three local television stations with the organization’s Key Award for contributions in promoting open government. The award was given for the newspaper’s and television stations’ joint effort in June to keep open court hearings on new evidence in a widely discussed triple-homicide case that prosecutors had sought to close to the public.

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Supreme Court agrees to hear arguments over Chicago’s red light program, FOIA and legal malpractice matters

The Illinois Supreme Court this week agreed to hear arguments in more than a dozen cases. ... The justices also agreed to hear a pair of cases challenging dismissals of actions brought under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Those cases are Warren Garlick v. Lisa Madigan and Larry Nelson, et al. v The County of Kendall.

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LSU board hit with penalty in public records case

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Baton Rouge judge has ordered the LSU Board of Supervisors to pay thousands in penalties to two newspapers, after refusing to provide them with presidential search records. Judge Janice Clark applied the maximum $100 per day penalty, along with a requirement that LSU reimburse the newspapers for attorneys' fees and court costs.

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Beaver county (PA) stalls on public records request despite legal ruling

BEAVER, Pennsylvania — Beaver County hasn't provided documents to a local newspaper on the initial five bidders for a nursing home, despite a ruling from the state's Office of Open Records. Assistant County Solicitor Andrea Cantelmi said Wednesday that no decision has been made on either providing the information or appealing the decision, The Beaver County Times reported.

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Iowa free press and open government events scheduled for Oct. 3

Members of the public, the media, local and state government and University of Iowa officials will participate in a day of free press and open government events Oct. 3. At 10 a.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol there will be a meeting of the new Iowa Public Information Board.

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Opinion: Another week, another dustup over public records issues in Ohio

Columbus -- Not too long after I started covering the Statehouse six years ago, I began keeping tabs on Ohio's Tax Credit Authority. Each month, I look over the panel's agenda, searching for companies of local interest. Wherever one from Youngstown or Defiance or Cambridge or Wooster or other communities is up for a tax break, I try to attend. It's always a challenge.

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New York governor has work to do to keep transparency promise

As he prepares to seek re-election next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo can point to a number of campaign promises kept: Passage of on-time budgets, approval of same-sex marriage and a revised tax code among them. What he cannot point to is his pledge to create “the most transparent and accountable (state government) in history.” On that front, the governor and his administration have much work to do.

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Bayonne must pay attorney fees in dispute over New Jersey OPRA requests

The city of Bayonne has been ordered to pay attorney fees after a state agency ruled that the city unlawfully denied a series of Open Public Records Act requests. "Bayonne has been difficult," said John Paff, 56, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Parties open government advocacy project, whose OPRA requests had been initially denied. "They seem to almost have a problem with dealing with record requests. I asked for two things and made two separate requests.

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Florida Public Defender under fire: New emails revealed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Action News is digging through thousands of emails from Jacksonville's embattled Public Defender, Matt Shirk. Shirk became the subject of a special prosecutor's probe after independent investigations by Action News and the Florida Times-Union revealed possible violations of public records laws.

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Editorial: Keeping the spirit of FOIA strong (MI)

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act will be 40 years old in 2016. That would seem long enough to assure that it is well understood and equally well followed by the public officials who entertain requests to review public records from citizens and the media. Yet, exactly how the FOIA is followed can vary wildly from state department to state department. LSJ state government reporter Kristen Daum exposed the contrasts in special reports this summer.

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September 23, 2013 3:42 PM

From NorthJersey.com: A campaign to tweak the state's most prominent open-government acts continues in town hall.

Earlier this month, West Milford representatives renewed their opposition to proposed amendments for the state's Open Public Records (OPRA) and Open Public Meeting (OPMA) acts. Proposed by state Senators Joseph Pennacchio (R-Essex, Morris, Passaic) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), bills S2512 and S2511 would introduce a bevy of changes – most notably renaming OPRA the Martin O'Shea Open Public Records and Transparency Act after the late public records advocate and former township resident.

Visit NorthJersey.com for more.

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August 30, 2013 9:19 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.

Battle Ground (Wash.) school board violated the state's Open Public Meetings Act, expert claims

image of Access keyBattle Ground school board members violated the state's Open Public Meetings Act when they voted behind closed doors in executive session to spend $400,000 to buy out the contract of the district superintendent, said one of the state's top advocates for open government. "If they voted in a secret meeting to spend $400,000 and didn't bring it to a public vote, that's completely illegal," said Toby Nixon, president of Washington Coalition for Open Government. "If the vote was held behind closed doors in executive session, whether it was part of a regular meeting or a special meeting, then under the Open Public Meetings Act, that action is null and void," he said.

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San Mateo County debuts records database

In a gesture of transparency, county officials earlier this month debuted the Open Data Portal, a new online listing of arcane spreadsheets and miscellaneous public information. The data might seem scattershot right now, but San Mateo County officials say it’s just the start of what they believe will revolutionize local public records. County Supervisors Dave Pine and Warren Slocum championed committing $460,000 in Measure A sales tax money to fund the new database over the next two years with the goal to to push any and all public information onto the site. The site is expected to grow exponentially as a warehouse for all county records for public perusal. Pine described it as a “living and evolving” project. “My bias is: the more data, the better,” he said.

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Florida governor appoints special prosecutor to investigate public defender's office

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed the state attorney for the Gainesville area Thursday to investigate allegations about the deletion of public records and questionable behavior in the office of Public Defender Matt Shirk reported this week in the Times-Union. . . . In the order appointing Cervone, Scott assigned him to investigate the Public Defender’s Office for “potential prosecution and all matters related to allegations of public records laws violations and any related misconduct.”

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Hanover County (Va.) supervisors want state agency to review Va.’s open meeting rules

The Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution in July asking the Virginia General Assembly to change open government regulations to allow larger groups of locally elected officials to meet behind closed doors without notifying the public. “While there was some initial adverse reaction to this, it might be better if there was a calm, deliberate study of this over the course of the next year by the (Freedom of Information Act) Advisory Council, at which point they’ll make a recommendation to members of the General Assembly,” said Hanover County Attorney Sterling E. Rives III.

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Eagan appointed chair of state Connecticut FOI commission

A lawyer and former deputy mayor of West Hartford has been chosen to serve as chairman of Connecticut's Freedom of Information Commission. The appointment of Owen Eagan was announced Tuesday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Eagan is a partner with the firm Eagan, Donohue, Van Dyke & Falsey and a former town councilor and deputy mayor in West Hartford.

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Release of L.A. teachers' performance ratings delayed by judge

. . . [T]he teachers union argued that "immediate release of the scores will cause irreparable harm to privacy rights, and that harm dramatically outweighs any prejudice or inconvenience that might be caused by a brief delay in public release of the records" pending the appeal. The Times had opposed a delay, arguing that the Legislature had severely restricted agencies from using appeals as a delaying tactic to keep public records secret. The Public Records Act bars courts from ordering delays unless those fighting disclosure have a probable chance of success and would suffer "irreparable damage" by the release of documents before the case was settled.

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Orange County Health Care Agency wants $54,371 to produce email records

Orange County’s Health Care Agency (HCA) wants to charge $54,371 for a response to a Voice of OC public records request to review emails from the last six months of 2012 – a whopping $338.14 for each day of emails reviewed. The request asks for electronic copies of any emails referencing the names of six different drugs, exchanged between Dr. Clayton Chau, a former psychiatrist at the agency, and members of its formulary committee, which routinely evaluates the master list of approved medications, between 2007 and 2012. . . . Voice of OC has requested a breakdown of this cost estimate. The California Public Records Act, established in 1968, does not allow government entities to charge fees for inspecting records or the cost to search, review and delete information. They can, however, charge for the cost of copies and for data compilation and extraction of information from electronic records.

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Court rules Atlantic City marketing arm not subject to public scrutiny

An advocate of open government has lost a lawsuit that sought to have Atlantic City’s casino-funded marketing coalition declared a public agency. John Paff, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, claimed that the Atlantic City Alliance is actually an arm of government and should have to disclose its records to the public. But a New Jersey appeals court ruled Tuesday that the ACA is the “private” part of a public-private partnership between the state and the casino industry to help revive Atlantic City’s tourism.

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July 15, 2013 1:22 PM

From The Asbury Park Press:  Township Public Library Director Susan O’Neal zipped off a quick email to township government critic and library supporter Linda Baum on April 18, suggesting that she request a copy of the audio recording from the library meeting the prior night.

The tape, she assured, would show that two library trustees claimed the library wasn’t needed and another trustee making accusations back.

“Pretty hot stuff, which reinforces my opinion that ‘they’ are not through dismantling the MTPL,” she wrote after proclaiming that Baum missed “major fireworks.”

Nearly three months later, the exchanges catching the public’s attention are not between library trustees, but the emails, nearly 1½ year’s worth, between O’Neal and Baum.

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July 12, 2013 9:12 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.

The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Opinion: Overturn bad ethics law

The apparent intent of the law is to help prevent public officials from being embarrassed or compromised by frivolous complaints to the ethics board. But we believe the public is smart enough to sort through competing claims and counterclaims as ethics complaints work their way through the system. To make such informed judgments, citizens need an open, transparent process in which those bringing ethics complaints — and those defending against such complaints — have wide latitude to speak freely. The present law, which favors those in authority at the expense of those who challenge authority, seems like an exercise in dictatorship, not democracy.

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North Jersey Media Group sues Gov. Christie for public records

Gov. Chris Christie's office refuses to release records that could show just what Republican campaign contributors did under state contracts after Hurricane Sandy, The Record newspaper claims in court. The North Jersey Media Group, whose flagship is The Record, sued New Jersey, the Governor's Office and Custodian of Records Hillary Hewit, in Mercer County Court. Record reporter Shawn Boburg submitted an Open Public Records Act request for invoices and attachments submitted to the state by Witt Group Holdings. The state eventually produced records but the timesheets were "heavily redacted," The Record says in the complaint. It wants to see the unredacted records.

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Battle Ground (Wash.) school district may have violated state law

Battle Ground Public Schools appears to have violated the state's Public Records Act by withholding a severance agreement with its embattled former superintendent. The school board members signed an agreement with Superintendent Shonny Bria on April 29, withheld the document for almost two months, and when The Columbian and The Reflector made specific public records requests about Bria's compensation, the district denied that such a record existed. "When it's signed by both parties, it then becomes a public document," said Matt Miller, deputy state auditor of the Washington State Auditor's Office. Miller said he will be looking at the Battle Ground case.

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FOI Oklahoma blog: Governor claims political influences on state policy should be kept secret

Gov. Mary Fallin is claiming an executive privilege to hide records that reveal political considerations behind her decisions on state policy. Included would be documents telling Fallin "who might be supportive of certain policy agendas in the legislature, both now and in the future, whether such support would exist after an upcoming election, and whether facts exist to help persuade the legislatures and others to support the governor's agenda," according to the formal response to an Open Records Act lawsuit against the governor. Fallin is the first Oklahoma governor to claim these privileges even though as a candidate she pledged to "support at every opportunity" the state's policy that "people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power."

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Connecticut FOI advocate says law after Sandy Hook shootings protecting photos goes too far

[Senate Bill 1149] was born behind closed doors in secret meetings among the governor’s staff, legislative leaders and the state’s top prosecutor. It bypassed the traditional public hearing process and was signed into law within 12 hours of the vote. Along the way, the exemptions in the bill were expanded from Newtown-specific privacy protections to include protections for all homicide victims when the the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus of senators and House members argued that lone victims on city streets should be entitled to the same respect as the Newtown victims and their families.

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Man files FOIA lawsuit against Whitestone (N.Y.) over civic virtue

A group advocating for the Triumph of Civic Virtue statue has filed a lawsuit against a city agency, claiming that it did not fully comply with its Freedom of Information request. Robert LoScalzo, a Whitestone resident and documentary filmmaker, submitted a lawsuit against the Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services accusing the agency of not handing over all the documents he asked for in his FOIA application. ... The FOIA requested that DCAS hand over all of their communication documents with Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery, where the structure was moved and the contractor who performed the job.

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Editorial: Public info belongs to the people of King County (Wash.)

In the Shoreline case, the information was being sought by Beth and Doug O’Neil after the content of an email criticizing the Shoreline City Council was read aloud at a meeting and incorrectly attributed to Beth O’Neil. She wanted to know who wrote the email and requested a copy. They received the email but not the metadata ... Four years later, in 2010, the state Supreme Court ruled metadata were subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. But the city hired computer experts who searched for the original message and later testified it was lost, according to The Associated Press. And that brings us to the $538,555 award by the judge — $438,555 for legal costs and $100,000 in damages.

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Hartford Courant Editorial: Who loses when the public's business is done in secret?

During this year's session of the General Assembly, more than the usual amount of legislation was negotiated in secret, pushed to passage without a public hearing, sprung on unsuspecting lawmakers by leaders in the session's last minutes or otherwise hatched without proper vetting. The legislative corner-cutting at the expense of transparency is becoming so prevalent that some harried freedom-of-information advocates bandied about the idea of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit legislation from becoming law without a public hearing.

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June 24, 2013 10:41 AM

From NJ.com:  With the recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s widespread monitoring of U.S. citizens, a pair of bills that give New Jersey residents a clearer picture of government goings on could not be timelier.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg expects to post two measures that would fine-tune laws protecting the public’s right to know this week for a full Senate vote.

The first offers amendments to the Open Public Records Act in three areas, while the second updates provisions in the Open Public Meetings Law.

Among the changes is one to prevent government workers with black markers from blotting out information that should be available to the public. It calls for redacted materials to be accompanied by an affidavit with details about the document — including the specific and lawful basis for each redaction.

 

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