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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March 28, 2014 9:36 AM

NFOIC member the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is asking Gov. Susana Martinez about the administration’s policy for handling information requests from the Legislature’s watchdog committees.

The questions were raised in response to a story by The Associated Press that Martinez agencies have told the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee to send their information requests to the governor’s chief of staff for approval before an agency will respond.

Foundation Executive Director Susan Boe sent a letter Wednesday to the governor asking if her chief of staff now serves as the “chief records custodian” for agency requests under the Inspection of Public Records Act. Continue>>>
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January 28, 2014 2:21 AM

Rep, Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said he will introduce legislation to expand webcasting of legislative committee hearings in an effort to improve the transparency of the Legislature. One rule change would require that all webcasts of committee meetings during the legislative session be archived. Session webcasts can now only be watched live.

The second rule change, co-sponsored with Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, would require the Legislative Council Service to begin webcasting all interim committee hearings. Interim committees meet between the legislative sessions and hear presentations on a variety of public policy issues including important ongoing issues in state government. This last summer, there was increased public interest in hearings related to Governor Martinez' shakeup of the state's mental health system.

In 2010, Steinborn sponsored the legislation requiring webcasting of legislative session committee meetings. He said it's time the Legislature take the next step in increasing its transparency and access. Continue>>>
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December 9, 2013 8:56 PM

From The Republic: SANTA FE, New Mexico — A judge has ruled that government agencies don't have to disclose an audit of more than a dozen mental health providers under investigation for possible overbillings and fraud, because the audit contains law enforcement materials that are confidential.

State District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe agreed with Attorney General Gary King's office in a lawsuit by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government seeking to force disclosure of the audit, which the state used to freeze Medicaid payments to the behavioral health providers.

Only a small part of the more-than-300-page audit has been publicly disclosed by the Human Services Department and the attorney general, which is investigating the allegations against providers of mental health and substance abuse services.

The judge said that withheld portions of the audit are law enforcement materials protected from disclosure under the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Visit The Republic for the complete article.

Also, for more background, please see:

New Mexico judge to review behavioral Health Audit

New Mexico Attorney General and Human Services Department release heavily redacted behavioral health audit

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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December 6, 2013 12:42 PM

From Las Cruces Sun-News: SANTA FE - The Associated Press filed lawsuits Thursday against Gov. Susana Martinez and administration agencies for refusing to release records about her work and travel schedules, cell phone calls and expenses of the security officers who travel with the governor.

The lawsuits alleging violations of the Inspection of Public Records Act are the latest by media and watchdog groups against Martinez, who has promoted herself as a strong advocate of a transparent government.

Visit Las Cruces Sun-News for more.

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November 22, 2013 2:24 PM

Press release from The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government: Albuquerque - In response to a lawsuit filed by The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG), District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has decided she will review the behavioral health audit for items to be disclosed or kept confidential.

During the proceeding, the Attorney General's made note that they believe the audit should be kept confidential, even after the investigation has been completed, which we found quite disturbing. NMFOG is hopeful in the release of the redacted audit.

NMFOG had been forced to file the lawsuit in State District Court in Santa Fe in mid-September after the Attorney General and HSD had refused NMFOG's request for the report, providing only a heavily redacted version. To see the full text of the released Behavioral Health Audit, see "NMFOG in the news" section on the www.nmfog.org website.

Please contact Greg Williams at gwilliams@peiferlaw.com or (505) 238-8120 for more details.

Please find the press release here. In addition, you can read our blog post, NMFOG sues AG's office, HSD to release behaviorla health audit, for more background.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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November 22, 2013 1:17 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.

Minnesota high court: Business not subject to open-records laws

image of Access keyThe Minnesota Supreme Court ruling reversed a Court of Appeals decision in case involving an Ely newspaper. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a private business that contracted with a northern school district to renovate buildings isn’t subject to state open-records laws. The ruling means that Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls doesn’t have to reveal to Timberjay Newspapers of Tower, Minn., details of its subcontract with a Minnesota architectural firm to build schools in St. Louis County. The high court reversed the Appeals Court’s October ruling, which had been viewed as a victory for public access to government contracts.

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Vanderbilt rape records request denied again, Tennessee

Nashville officials on Thursday again denied a request for records related to the investigation of a June 23 incident in which four football players at Vanderbilt University are accused of raping an unconscious female student. The Tennessean and its attorney are weighing their response.

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N.M. Judge says state can keep audit secret

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The state can keep secret an audit that prompted it to freeze payments to providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment, a state district judge ruled Thursday. Judge Douglas Driggers rejected a request by the Las Cruces Sun-News and New Mexico In Depth to order the Human Services Department to release the audit under state open records laws. But he did leave open the possibility of a new hearing in six months to see if more of the 300-page document can be released later.

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Clinton records trial delayed to Jan. 30, IA

CLINTON — A trial on the enforcement actions related to the city of Clinton not releasing records of closed sessions has been continued. In a summary judgment issued Tuesday, the city was found to have violated the state open records law in not releasing the records of a series of six closed meetings held regarding the lawsuit filed over the ambulance service billing practices. The Wednesday trial was to present arguments on the penalties and enforcement.

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Conservative thinktank wants emails of outspoken UNC law professor

The Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-based conservative group, has filed a public records request for emails and correspondence of Gene Nichol, a tenured University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor who has been critical of McCrory Administration policies. The public records request for Nichol’s emails was reported Thursday afternoon by Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies, a group which has closely tracked spending by Art Pope, a wealthy Republican donor serving as McCrory’s budget director. Civitas is funded almost entirely by a family foundation run by Pope.

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Another View: FOIA fixes would help, Michigan

A committee in the Michigan House has sent a bill making essential improvements to the state's Freedom of Information Act to the full chamber for consideration, likely later this year. That is good news for media organizations that fight battles to get public information on a regular basis. But it's even better news for citizens, who are entitled to see records that let them evaluate the quality of their government.

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PA local agencies may have violated law

Two local government entities may have violated the state's Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Act, related to how officials handled executive sessions in October. The Express documented how local government handled executive sessions during October. During that time period, Keystone Central School Board and Wayne Township's Board of Supervisors went into executive sessions during public meetings and the boards may have violated the Sunshine Act after potentially failing to offer proper explanation for the executive sessions, according to case law and a legal expert's interpretation of the law.

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Sterling cancels mediation hearing in FL public records case

A hearing set for this morning in a lawsuit involving a public records request for a town official’s emails was cancelled Wednesday afternoon.
Sterling Palm Beach had asked for mediation in hopes of resolving key issues prior to a Dec. 13 hearing involving documents related to lease negotiations for the Royal Poinciana Playhouse. However, Sterling cancelled the hearing, which was a request to set mediation. Calls to John Little, Sterling’s attorney, were not returned.

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Wyo. Supreme Court hears arguments in records case involving frack chemical trade secrets

CHEYENNE, Wyoming — The state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a trade secrets exemption in Wyoming's public records law may be invoked to shield from disclosure many of the chemicals the petroleum industry uses in hydraulic fracturing. The landowner group Powder River Basin Resource Council and environmentalists including the Wyoming Outdoor Council argued that individual ingredients in the various chemical products used during hydraulic fracturing can't be considered trade secrets. Therefore, they say, the information on file with the state must be disclosed to the public.

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Colorado couple sues town for records in February police shooting

The ACLU and a Castle Rock couple whose car was hit by a police officer's bullet while he was responding to a burglary in February are suing town officials for records related to the shooting and the officer's conduct. Town and police officials have repeatedly denied Michael and Susan Cardellas' open-records requests for documents detailing the internal investigation into the Feb. 21 shooting, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday. The couple also wants information concerning Officer Terry Watts' conduct about 1 p.m. that day, when he fired his rifle at fleeing burglary suspects in a Ford Explorer.

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University of Central Florida ignores FOIA request

A federal judge has ordered UCF to release documents involved in a same-sex parenting study, but UCF has obtained legal counsel in efforts to block the release. More than 50,000 documents relating to the parenting study, which appeared in Social Science Research — a publication housed at UCF — have been requested, but not submitted.

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Journalism background expected to serve new asst. attorney general in Washington well

OLYMPIA – Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced on Monday that he has selected Olympia attorney Nancy Krier to serve full time as the office’s Open Government Assistant Attorney General. Prior to pursuing her law degree at the University of Washington, Krier worked several years as a reporter.

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CT lawmaker scrambles after political consulting revelations

Rep. Geoffrey Luxenberg tried to skirt open-government laws by directing a state legislative aide to communicate with him by text message to his personal cellphone or to a personal email account. The Democrat from Manchester also asked legislative staffers to draft “talking points” to help him and his “surrogates” in interviews with reporters. The staffers told him they couldn’t do that because the issue involved his private business, not his actions as a state representative.

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Idaho open government group objects to closed Twin Falls meetings

TWIN FALLS • Idahoans for Openness in Government filed a complaint against the city of Twin Falls Tuesday, claiming city officials have repeatedly violated the state’s open meeting law. The complaint stems from the city’s use of closed subcommittees. The panels are made up of fewer than four City Council members, plus city staff and citizens. The groups make recommendations on who should fill open city positions and on city finances, for example.

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November 11, 2013 9:48 AM

From Santa Fe New Mexican: TAOS — A quorum of the Taos County Commission meets regularly to have lunch, but commissioners insist that they discuss no county business.

County officials say the lunches are within the state’s sunshine laws, but an attorney with the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government told The Taos News he questions whether this is an ethical practice, and says it is teetering on the edge of illegal.

Greg Williams, an Albuquerque-based attorney who volunteers as a legal consultant for NMFOG, said that if even one sentence comes out of a commissioner’s mouth during one of these lunches that has to do with county business, that commissioner has broken the law.

Visit Santa Fe New Mexican for more.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 21, 2013 12:05 PM

Press release from The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government:  Albuquerque - In response to a lawsuit filed by The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG), the Attorney General of New Mexico and the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) today (Oct. 18, 2013) released some new portions of the Behavioral Health Audit report, which HSD relied upon in halting Medicaid payments to health care providers in New Mexico until new management was put in place.

NMFOG had been forced to file the lawsuit in State District Court in Sante Fe in mid September after the Attorney General and HSD had refused NMFOG's request for the report, providing only a heavily redacted version.

The Attorney General and HSD still refuse to release the entire report. The version released today is still significantly redacted, and FOG will continue its efforts to obtain release of the full report. To see the full text of the released Behavioral Health Audit, see "NMFOG in the News" section on the www.nmfog.org website.

Please contact Greg Williams at Greg Williams at gwilliams@peiferlaw.com or (505) 238-8120 for more details.

Visit The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government for more, and find the complete press release here.

Also, please read an article, New portion of audit released; hundreds of pages still secret, from KUNM.org: A portion of an audit released Friday by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office with many details blacked out shed little light on why the state froze Medicaid payments to 15 New Mexico behavioral health providers.

At the same time, the 58-page document raised tantalizing questions.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) released the document to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which posted the document on its website Friday evening.

Most of the 400-page audit remains undisclosed despite lawsuits by New Mexico In Depth, the Las Cruces Sun-News and the Foundation for Open Government demanding public release of the audit.

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Despite receiving the newly released portion of the audit, one officer of the Foundation for Open Government lamented Friday at how few revelations were contained in the document.

“We are not satisfied with what we received today,” FOG Board treasurer Gregory P. Williams was quoted by KRQE-TV in Albuquerque as saying. “We have not received anything of the substance of the report, so the public still has no idea why funding was stopped to all of these entities.”

Visit KUNM.org for more.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 16, 2013 11:20 AM

From Santa Fe New Mexican: Just weeks before the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sued Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration for withholding a controversial audit report, the chairwoman of the foundation’s executive board was pitching the idea of giving Martinez — as well as Attorney General Gary King — an award for government transparency.

This is documented in emails released to The New Mexican by Terry Schleder, who recently was ousted as executive director of the organization for alleged “insubordination.” Schleder expressed concerns over a conservative tilt on the FOG executive board and called the awards discussion an example of FOG being too concerned with “protecting the powerful.”

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FOG’s executive board chairwoman, Terri Cole, who also is executive director of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, denied Monday that the open-government organization leans conservative. “It is a very well-balanced board,” she said.

Cole said she saw no irony in nominating Martinez and King for a William S. Dixon Award — despite the fact that the governor has been the defendant in public-records suits and King was found by a judge to be in violation of the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

Visit Santa Fe New Mexican for more.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 3, 2013 8:48 AM

From Santa Fe New Mexican: (Oct 1, 2013) A government that works in the dark is little good for citizens.

That’s why the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government was formed back in 1989. Its purpose is simple: to keep the light shining on the actions of public officials who might prefer to do business behind closed doors.

[. . .]

Today, the organization celebrates its annual William S. Dixon Awards to honor those who also fight for public access to what should be public information. (The awards are named for a foundation co-founder and advocate.) We at The New Mexican are proud of this year’s Lifetime Achievement winner, our recently retired editor, Rob Dean. As editor and managing editor of the newspaper for two decades, Dean worked to improve access to police reports, advocated for open meetings when officials crept behind closed doors and urged his reporters to hold elected officials accountable by filing records using the Inspection of Public Records Act. It is fitting that his unrelenting support for sunshine on the public’s business is being singled out today.

Honored with the 2013 Journalists Award are The Santa Fe Reporter and online investigative and political reporter Heath Haussamen. The Law Award is going to Patrick Griebel and Jeremy Theoret, attorneys who fought and won the right for the public to know the truth about the death of outlaw Billy the Kid. Dr. William Turner is recipient of the Citizen Award for his work at opening up the operations of the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District to the public.

Visit Santa Fe New Mexican for more.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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September 20, 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.

York (VA) supervisors' planned secret meetings with business execs raise questions

image of Access keyYORK, VA — A request by the parent company of the former Yorktown refinery to meet privately and secretly with members of the York County Board of Supervisors next week has raised questions about open government practices and what's next for the facility. According to emails between York County officials and the supervisors, executives from Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline requested to meet with members of the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 27. The purpose of the meeting, according to the emails, is to brief the supervisors on the improvements and plans for the facility, which the company is converting to an oil transportation terminal.

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Arizona Republic, 12 News sue for Yarnell records

The Arizona Republic and 12 News have filed suit against the Yavapai County Sheriff’s and Medical Examiner’s offices over their refusal to release investigative records from the Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy that left 19 hotshots dead. The two Gannett news organizations allege in a civil complaint filed Wednesday in Yavapai County Superior Court that diagrams, some photographs and other documents are public records under state law, and Arizona residents have a compelling interest in learning what led to the demise of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots nearly three months ago.

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Editorial: Open meetings should stay open (VA)

Last week, Virginia’s FOIA Advisory Council declined to take up Hanover County’s request to review the definition of a public meeting. Hanover’s seven-member board of supervisors originally voted to ask the legislature to change the statute that prohibits more than two elected officials from meeting to discuss public business, a change that would impact every elected body in the state and would diminish transparency in every county, city and incorporated town.

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University of Washington fined $723,000 for withholding records

SEATTLE (AP) — A King County judge fined the University of Washington $723,000 for withholding public records from a faculty member who sued because she believed she was wrongfully denied tenure at the Tacoma campus. The documents turned up after Isabelle Bichindaritz lost her discrimination lawsuit in federal court, The Seattle Times reported Thursday.

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Future bright for open data movement (CA)

California is home to the Innovation capital of the world—the Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs and innovators spend countless hours creating new technology that brings the people closer to their state and local governments. That technology, coupled with a raised expectation with citizens for more transparency and accountability, has ignited a movement called open data or open government. Municipalities throughout the state have moved to provide data to the people. San Francisco is one of the first cities to hire a Chief Innovation Officer. The City also has an open data policy. The city of Palo Alto has an extensive open data platform.

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The News Tribune wins Washington First Amendment award

SEATTLE (AP) — The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash., is the winner of this year's Ted Natt First Amendment Award for its commitment to fighting for access to public records and the principles of open government. The award presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association in Seattle honored the paper for its defense of the First Amendment and deep reporting on a wide range of issues.

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Editorial: A victory for open government in Washington

During last fall’s general election, we were heartened that both candidates for state attorney general, Democrat Bob Ferguson and Republican Reagan Dunn, promised to restore to full-time status the position of open government assistant attorney general. Ferguson won the election, and this week he made good on the promise. Then-Attorney General Rob McKenna created the position in 2005 to help the public get better access to government information. The job also is designed to assist in resolving disputes and to answer questions from the public, media and government staff. Budget cutbacks during the recent economic recession prompted McKenna to make the job half-time.

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Springfield (IL) police chief says he resisted document destruction

Soon-to-be-retired Springfield Police Chief Robert Williams voiced concerns about destroying certain internal affairs files but was overruled, according to a transcript of his sworn deposition obtained by The State Journal-Register. Williams said the decision to shred the files, including those of now-Deputy Chief Cliff Buscher, came during a meeting attended by then-Corporation Counsel Mark Cullen, Buscher, Williams and Bill Logan, the mayor’s executive assistant.

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Local women's league sponsors FOIA forum (VA)

Today, for the first time at the local level, the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County will be sponsoring an event for the public on open government and the Freedom of Information Act. It is a topic that affects all citizens, but by being more informed, community members can make an even bigger difference in local government.

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N.M. open government group sues to force audit release

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has filed a lawsuit seeking public disclosure of an audit that identified potential overbillings and fraud by providers of mental health and substance abuse services. The Human Services Department has frozen payments to more than a dozen behavioral health providers because of the fraud allegations.

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September 18, 2013 11:33 AM

From New Mexico Telegram: An open government group announced it would sue for the release of a behavioral health audit from the Attorney General’s office as well as the Human Services Department.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government made the announcement in a Tuesday afternoon press release.

“The audit report was significant enough to cause HSD to suspend Medicaid payments to 15 behavioral health providers in New Mexico,” said Gregory P. Williams, an officer of FOG. “The report is too important to the citizens of New Mexico to be kept from public view, and in our view New Mexico law does not permit it to be withheld. If it is protected as a law enforcement record, the burden is on the Attorney General to show how its release would jeopardize the investigation.”

The group said it was suing through the Inspection of Public Records Act. NM FOG wants for unredacted versions of the audit to be released.

[...]

This is not the first lawsuit seeking a release of the audit.

New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-News previously filed a lawsuit seeking the release. The Las cruces Sun-News is a partner with New Mexico In Depth.

Visit New Mexico Telegram for more.

Please also see Government Advocates File Suit for Secret Behavioral Health Audit from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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