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/.
A panel of experts assembled to offer advice on transparency issues is not subject to the state's open meetings law. At least that's the opinion of Ann Butterworth, who heads the Comptroller's Office of Open Records Counsel.
She made the finding in response to an email activist Ken Jakes requested for more information about a recent teleconference held by the 14-member Advisory Committee on Open Government.
"Is that not ironic that the very office that holds the responsibility of seeing that the citizens have access is involved in blocking access?" Jakes said. Continue>>>
A new guide to Tennessee’s open records and open meetings laws should have a lasting impact on good government across our state.
“Keys to Open Government” a 52-page book, was released earlier this month at the Tennessee Press Association’s winter convention. Perhaps no one was waiting breathlessly, but that doesn’t diminish the need for such a resource.
Written by yours truly and edited by my colleague Deborah Fisher at the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, “Keys” is a guide we hope will help journalists, citizens and elected and appointed officials navigate the laws designed and enacted to keep government actions open and above board. Continue>>>
Two First Amendment groups have requested permission to file briefs in support of a public records lawsuit brought by The Tennessean and other media organizations that goes before the state's Supreme Court in May seeking evidence in a rape case against four former Vanderbilt University football players.
The Tennessean, eight media organizations and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government filed suit against Metro Nashville last fall seeking access to records in the case that were not created by government entities but were in the hands of police. Those records include text messages between Vanderbilt football coaches and players.
The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the media coalition, but in January the state's highest court agreed to review the case. Continue>>>
Denial of public records, excessive fees to find out what the government is doing, violations of open meetings law and long delays in getting information are some of the problems open records advocates find in Tennessee.
News media routinely face hurdles in getting information to report to the public but ordinary citizens have it 10 times worse, said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. She made the comment during the annual Associated Press-Tennessee Press Association legislative preview session.
Fisher told the story of a widow who was charged $1,000 just to see the case file involving her husband who had been shot to death by a sheriff's deputy. Continue>>>
Third Judicial District Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins made a ruling Thursday regarding Tennessee's Open Meetings Act that could have far-reaching legal significance.
During a hearing in a Greene County Chancery Court lawsuit which seeks to stop the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County and US Nitrogen's plans to use the Nolichucky River for the company's water supply (see related article, page A-1), Jenkins ruled that deliberations at public meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act must be audible in order to comply with the law.
He had earlier granted a Motion For Leave to Intervene in the case from the advocacy group Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) and its attorney, Richard L. Hollow, of Knoxville. Continue>>>
Open records activists have launched a Twitter campaign urging Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to lift a hold he placed on the FOIA Improvement Act.
The bipartisan companion bill was passed unanimously by the House in February and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it in November.
One senator shouldn't obstruct progress on making the federal government more transparent to the American people. Continue>>>
An advocate for open records and open meetings in Tennessee said Tuesday that state and local agencies often broaden protections that don’t apply to them, and citizens and the media should keep them accountable.
Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, spoke to local media and East Tennessee State University journalism students on the issue of open records and open meetings laws as part of the agency’s educational program.
“A public record is open for inspection unless a state law says it is not,” Fisher said. Often, people who request open records — and are denied — do not follow through with the additional requirement that government agencies must cite the specific state law that exempts the record. Continue>>>
A non-profit watchdog group in Washington D.C. is criticizing Chattanooga's EPB over the costs associated with a recent open records request. A UTC student, and intern for the group, says he was slapped with a large fee after wanting to know more about how much the publicly-owned provider spends on advertising.
"They're not a private business. They're not Comcast. They're not Charter," says Ethan Greene. Ethan Greene says he was hit with a large fee when he filed an open records request to look into EPB's advertising agreements and spending, as well as emails from top management, spanning from 2012 to March 2014.
"In order for me to view those records, not to receive copies, but just to view them, that I first had to pay the fee that they assessed of $1,767.07," says Greene. He filed the request at the end of March. To see if the cost would drop, he filed separate requests in April but the fee stayed the same. In May, he wrote a check. "I got help from the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. I mean, it was in my bank account, it came from my checking account that I paid." Continue>>>
The Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking public release of the secret Red Team report. After two false starts and a billion dollars down the drain, the National Nuclear Security Administration is seeking to re-start its plan for a multi-billion dollar nuclear weapons production plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with a “Red Team” plan that is shrouded in secrecy. The Red Team, formed in January 2014 at the behest of NNSA Administrator Bruce Held, conducted tours of the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, were briefed on uranium operation there during the month of March, and provided a report to Held on April 15.
The secrecy surrounding the Red Team is almost complete—the only thing known about the team is the name of its leader, Dr. Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge. The names of other members of the team have not been disclosed to the public.
“The National Environmental Policy Act requires the government to conduct a public process before undertaking major federal actions. That process requires hearings, provides an opportunity for public comment, and requires the government to respond to those comments,” said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. Continue>>>
Openness in government is not a liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Independent, TEA party or Libertarian issue. The importance of transparency in local, state and federal government should transcend parties and political ideologies.
Checks and balances provide few checks and little balance when officials broker deals behind closed doors and conceal documents that contain important information that citizens have the right, and often the need, to know.
Local government has the biggest impact in the lives of citizens on a day-to-day basis. Whether it is in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, personal property taxes, business taxes, state-shared dollars or federal grants, loans and funding, local government is 100 percent taxpayer funded. The decisions being made, the monies being spent and the records being kept by city hall, the county commission, the board of education or the utility district all belong to liberals, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, TEA party volunteers, Libertarians and even politically disinterested individuals. All stakeholders have a stake in open meetings and public records and should care about transparency issues. Continue>>>
Liberty Institute, in partnership with the Washington, D.C. law firm Bancroft PLLC, recently submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department and the State Department on behalf of HaYovel, Inc., a Tennessee-based nonprofit dedicated to the support of small independent farmers in Israel.
The requests seek information related to the surprise field audit the IRS conducted of HaYovel in December 2010. The audit came a few months after the organization was featured prominently in a July 5, 2010 New York Times article titled Tax-Exempt Funds Aid Settlements in West Bank.
The FOIA requests seek to determine whether there is a connection between the New York Times article, the current administration's policies with regard to Israel's settlements in the West Bank, and the audit of HaYovel in 2010. Continue>>>