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 12, 2011 11:04 AM

From delmarvanow.com:

ACCOMAC, Va. -- A General District judge set a noon hearing Jan. 11 to consider motions in a case in which Onancock resident Charles Landis claims the town violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding an illegal closed meeting.

Landis also claims the town violated the law by giving him a redacted version of the new town manager's employment contract -- which Landis requested in August and received in October.

December 12, 2011 10:57 AM

From American Civil Liberties Union:

In June 2011, the ACLU filed suit against the State Department to enforce a FOIA request seeking 23 embassy cables previously disclosed by WikiLeaks. The agency released redacted versions of 11 and withheld the other 12 in full.

The five excerpts [here] show the government’s selective and self-serving decisions to withhold information. Because the leaked versions of these cables have already been widely distributed, the redacted releases provide unique insight into the government’s selective decisions to hide information from the American public.

December 12, 2011 9:35 AM

From Bangor Daily News:

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the state’s right-to-know advisory committee on Thursday approved a proposal from the governor’s office that would exempt all of his “working papers” from the Freedom of Access Act, perhaps until the end of each legislative session.

[...]

“This runs completely contrary to what the governor has said about transparency,” said Judy Meyer, managing editor of the Lewiston Sun Journal and co-chairman of the right-to-know committee. “It’s hypocritical.”

December 9, 2011 3:52 PM

A few items selected from many of interest that we might not have drawn attention to earlier:

Hackathon aims to produce open government apps

Open government should get a boost from an event being held this weekend in San Francisco, according to event sponsor Granicus Inc. The CityCampSF Hackathon, scheduled for Dec. 10 and 11, will bring together innovative professionals from government, technology and journalism, as well as community leaders, to work on building applications that will foster civic innovation and transparency in government.

Visit Government Computer News for the rest.

Vermont Supreme Court hears plea for release of police records

A news website is asking the Vermont Supreme Court to order the Hartford Police Department to release the records of a case in which a naked man with a medical condition was pepper-sprayed and handcuffed inside his home. An attorney for the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, working for vtdigger.org, told the court Thursday that, in most cases, state law requires such documents be released.

Visit Burlington Free Press for the rest.

Pa. legislators consider opening records at Penn State, other public schools

On the same day that former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested on new molestation charges, state legislators released the text of a bill that would bring the university into the reach of Pennsylvania’s public records law. House Bill 2051 would amend the Right-to-Know law to include within its purview “state-related” institutions, including four of the state’s major universities: Penn State University, Temple University, Lincoln University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Visit Student Press Law Center for the rest.

Tennessee governor opposes changing open meetings law

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that Tennessee's open meetings law works well and he sees no need for changes pushed by some local government officials. The governor said his own experience while serving as Knoxville mayor left him believing "the law, the way they have it, works."

Visit Knoxville News Sentinel for the rest.

ACLU demands info on workplace raids

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The ACLU is fighting Immigration and Customs Enforcement's demand for a $10,000 fee for records on an immigration raid on a Southern California factory. The ACLU wants the Federal Court to waive the fees and force ICE, a creature of the Department of Homeland Security, to release documents. The ACLU wants to know if ICE is abiding by its putative policy to target employers of undocumented workers, rather than the workers.

Visit Courthouse News Service for the rest.

December 9, 2011 11:14 AM

A paper from The Brookings Institution:

In a representative democracy, average citizens should be able to easily monitor the public actions of their representatives and the politically powerful who seek to influence those representatives. New semantic web technologies make such monitoring more cost effective to do than ever before. But while these technologies have been widely used to monitor the weak, they have not been used to monitor the powerful, who often cite privacy and cost concerns as excuses to avoid such monitoring.

This paper recommends asking the president of the United States to 1) use the new technologies so the American people can more easily monitor his public, official actions, and 2) serve as a showcase for Congress and the rest of the executive branch of government-wide information sharing for democratic accountability.

December 9, 2011 11:09 AM

From The Rock River Times:

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois State Police officials announced Dec. 8 they are not required to release the names and addresses of individuals who possess Firearm Owner’s Identification (FOID) cards based on a Peoria County Circuit Court ruling.

The court also found the release of names is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which permanently bars the Illinois State Police from revealing the identities of the state’s firearm owners.

December 9, 2011 11:06 AM

From Arkansas Times Blog:

The Arkansas Supreme Court today granted an emergency stay sought by the city of Little Rock to block Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen's order that it release information about Police Lt. David Hudson's history of use of force. That record is being sought by Keith Hall, defense lawyer for a man punched repeatedly in the face by Hudson before an arrest at Ferneau restaurant.

Hudson has filed reports at least four times on using force in arrests.

December 9, 2011 11:02 AM

From The Michigan Daily:

Under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, a public body like the University may give requested records to the media at no cost or a reduced charge if the information benefits the general public. Yet several records requests from The Michigan Daily to the University’s FOIA Office have resulted in fees of hundreds — and sometimes thousands — of dollars to obtain records to be used in news articles that benefit the public.

[...]

When a university charges thousands of dollars to retrieve a public records request, it raises questions about how the school is managing its information, says Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, a non-profit that advocates for student journalists’ First Amendment rights.

December 9, 2011 10:58 AM

From Quad-City Times:

CLINTON (IA) — A group of Clinton residents is working with the American Civil Liberties Union to gain access to minutes of closed city council meetings where the city’s $4.5 million settlement of a whistle-blower lawsuit was discussed.

Citizens for Open Government was formed last month by a group of people who supported the efforts of two candidates for city office who were seeking to have minutes of the closed-session meetings made public, said Marty Nischke, chairman of the group.

December 8, 2011 9:10 AM

From Texas Watchdog:

The state Attorney General’s open records division launches an online appeals system in February, which will require parties to cough up $30 if they want to use the system to respond to a government body’s appeal of an open records request.

The office says it will no longer accept challenges to public information requests or responses via fax or email beginning in January. Taxpayers, who used to be able to use email, will now have to pay postage fees if they want to go around the online system. Looming service cutbacks and price increases at the U.S. Postal Service impose even more cost and delay on the public’s quest for its own information.

December 7, 2011 4:37 PM

From WashingtonPost Local:

The revelation in a court filing that Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi and a top aide regularly used personal e-mail accounts to conduct government business so as to be “non-FOIA-ble” — that is, not subject to the Freedom of Information Act — has touched a nerve in local media circles.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was questioned aggressively on the matter at his news conference this morning, and he said he does not support members of his administration using private e-mail accounts for government purposes. His attorney general, Irvin B. Nathan, said in a statement Tuesday that the city “needs to make such a policy clear and in writing.”

December 7, 2011 4:32 PM

From Boston.com:

WASHINGTON - Tens of thousands of e-mails authored or received by Cabinet secretaries in the last three Republican gubernatorial administrations were automatically wiped off state computers after the officials left office, destroying a huge trove of public records about major decisions of state government.

Computer systems erased the e-mails from the administrations of Acting Governor Jane Swift and Governors Paul Cellucci and Mitt Romney because state officials did not store the contents of their accounts by backing them up on central computers, according to state officials. In the case of the Romney administration, the automatic deletions occurred despite state guidelines that were updated in 2004 that require certain electronic records be preserved.

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