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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June 29, 2012 2:45 PM

A few state FOIA and local and Federal open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week:

NM court limits executive privilege in IPRA case

SANTA FE, N.M. - The New Mexico Supreme Court has significantly limited the ability of government officials to use executive privilege when denying access to records under the Inspection of Public Records Act. ... The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says the ruling is "a resounding victory" for the public's right to know.

Visit KOB.com -- Eyewitness News 4 for the rest.

Education Law Center sues New Jersey to obtain documents

CAMDEN — The Education Law Center is suing the state to obtain documents about two private foundations and their funding of the Department of Education and some of its employees. The suit, citing the state’s Open Public Records Act, comes after the ELC was either being denied access to records or strung along with repeated requests for extensions that remain unfulfilled more than two months after the original request.

Visit Courier-Post for the rest.

FOIA request forces DoJ to reveal National Security Letter templates

As the result of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Department of Justice has revealed, for the first time, the types of secret letters that the government can send out to ISPs and other tech companies being asked to reveal personal data about their users and customers who are being investigated for national security reasons. In 2009, over 6,000 Americans received such National Security Letters (NSLs).

Visit Ars Technica for the rest.

South Carolina Supreme Court rules Freemantle has standing to pursue FOIA case

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Upstate resident Rick Freemantle has legal standing under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to proceed with his lawsuit against Anderson County and its former administrator, Joey Preston. ... “ The legislature has specifically conferred standing upon any citizen of South Carolina to bring a FOIA claim against a public body for declaratory or injunctive relief, or both,” the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. “Appellant has pled that he is a citizen of the state and that FOIA has been violated. Nothing more is required.”

Visit Anderson Independent Mail for the rest.

Feds sued for wind power collusion

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington D.C. District Court, American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has accused the federal government of suppressing information about wind energy projects and their potential negative impact on America's wildlife. ABC is being represented in the suit by the Washington D.C. public-interest law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal.

Visit Tulsa Today for the rest.

Florida A&M University struggles with budget, public records and image following student’s hazing death

Budget cuts and a deluge of public records requests are preventing Florida A&M University from putting out “a positive message,” university officials told a skeptical board of trustees Wednesday. ... Communications Director Sharon Saunders said the money was needed, in part, because her office has been flooded with public records requests pertaining to Champion’s death and a host of other issues. Her staff has little time for anything else.

Visit Financial News and Daily Record for the rest.

June 28, 2012 11:03 AM

From Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has rendered an important decision, affirming that the state's open records law means what it says when it limits public officials to charging records requesters for just the "actual, necessary and direct cost" of making copies and in some cases locating and sending records. The court concluded that the drafters of the law recognized the need for custodians to review records and redact certain information, even as they provided no mechanism for recovery of any attendant costs.

We believe this affirms not just the letter of the law but its spirit, as reflected in the law's "Declaration of Policy," which holds that providing the public access to information "is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information."

By "integral" and "routine," the Legislature did not mean to say, "for an additional cost..."  As the opinion observes, access goes hand-in-hand with cost: "The greater the fee imposed on a request of a public record, the less likely the requester will be willing and able to successfully make a record request. . . . "[T]he imposition of costs, as a practical matter, inhibits access."

The interpretation announced today has been supported all along by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, as well as by the state Justice Department under Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

With regard to the concurring opinion by several justices suggesting that the law should perhaps be changed to allow the imposition of these costs, we note the need to review records and redact certain information has been part of open records compliance for decades. The efforts by some custodians to charge extra for this function is a relatively new development.

Wisconsin's strong open records law is integral to the preservation of clean government and a functioning democracy. It is well worth the cost that compliance with the law entails. Let's not weaken our law by letting government officials charge extra for obeying it.

--30--

For immediate release  
Contact: Bill Lueders, (608) 669-4712

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. -- eds.

See a recent post with more news attached here and articles from the State Bar of Wisconsin and Hudson Star-Observer and opinion from Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Wisconsin State JournalThe Journal Times, the Journal-Sentinel, and The Cap Times.

June 27, 2012 2:22 PM

From The Republic:

MADISON, Wis. — Government entities can't charge the public for time spent deleting confidential information from records, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The decision marks a major victory for open government advocates and the media amid an intense debate over whether taxpayers or requesters should foot the bill for redaction costs, which can sometimes stretch into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

[...]

Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, praised the decision.

"We believe this affirms not just the letter of the (open records) law but its spirit," Lueders said in a statement.

Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. -- eds.

See more about this with articles and opinions from the State Bar of Wisconsin, the Hudson Star-Observer, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

June 27, 2012 1:58 PM

From Statesman Journal:

 

Ellen Rosenblum will seek changes in Oregon’s 40-year-old public records law to make government responses to citizen requests “earlier, cheaper and better.”
 
But Rosenblum, during a meeting Tuesday with the Statesman Journal editorial board, said she may take a less sweeping approach than her soon-to-be predecessor as attorney general.
June 27, 2012 1:54 PM

From Merchant Herald:

Today, Citizens for a Healthy Community and the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to force the government to reveal the names of the individuals or corporations that nominated 30,000 acres of public lands in Colorado’s North Fork Valley for oil and gas drilling.

The nominated parcels were included in the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) August 2012 oil and gas lease sale; however, due to overwhelming public opposition spearheaded by Citizens for a Healthy Community and WELC, BLM announced in May that it would defer the lease sale.

June 27, 2012 1:37 PM

From The Colorado Independent:

On the record, Jessica Peck isn’t thinking much about a potential Internal Revenue Service investigation into her Denver-based watchdog Open Government Institute. She has characterized the complaint (pdf) filed last month by left-leaning Colorado Ethics Watch as politically motivated and based on misinterpreted facts. She told the Independent she doesn’t think the IRS will take the request seriously and that she hasn’t been following news about similar flaps involving nonprofits like hers and the IRS.

[...]

The complaint against the Open Government Institute stems from an appearance Peck made in April at the Colorado Republican Business Coalition alongside Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, who is presently up for re-election in the state’s newly drawn competitive Sixth Congressional District.

June 27, 2012 1:29 PM

From Daily Camera:

SANTA FE, N.M. -- A group advocating for open government is asking a state agency to prohibit confidentiality provisions that restrict public disclosure of settlements with investment firms, such as those under investigation in an alleged pay-to-play scheme.
 
The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is upset because the State Investment Council reached a $250,000 settlement that wasn't made public for more than a year because the agency agreed not to issue a press release or voluntarily announce the deal with a California-based investment firm.

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

June 27, 2012 1:25 PM

From The Seattle Times:

City officials and federal attorneys released more than 150 pages of previously confidential documents Monday that reveal, far more than previously known, deep divisions in how to bring about sweeping changes in the Seattle Police Department.
 
Included in the materials, most of which were disclosed under a public-records request, is the city's initial response to address the Department of Justice (DOJ) finding in December that Seattle officers too often use excessive force in violation of the Constitution.

June 27, 2012 9:16 AM

From WPRI.com:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Tuesday signed a reworked public records bill into law that unseals government employment contracts and creates a so-called "balancing test" for disclosures modeled after federal statute.

The new law is the first significant change to the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA) in 14 years and Chafee said he hopes it will make government more transparent in Rhode Island.

Also, see NFOIC supports Rhode Island public records improvements.

Ken Bunting, executive director of NFOIC, says: "Every once in a while,  the pro-transparency forces   get to play offense (not defense) in the legislative arena, and the good guys still win. This is great news to hear! Obviously, those of us at NFOIC are especially proud of the role that NEFAC and Access/RI played, as well as all of their on-the-ground, in-the-trenches allies."

You may also want to check out http://www.wpri.com/dpp/target_12/gov-signs-public-records-bill-into-law and http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2012/06/chafee-signs-bi.html.

June 26, 2012 2:37 PM

From Carolina Public Press:

 

ASHEVILLE — Five Western North Carolina news organizations filed a lawsuit today calling on the city of Asheville and the Buncombe County district attorney’s office to release an audit of the Asheville Police Department’s evidence room.
 
Filed by the Asheville Citizen-Times, Carolina Public Press, Mountain Xpress, WCQS and WLOS in Buncombe County Superior Court, the lawsuit argues that, under North Carolina open records law, the audit, produced by a private contractor hired by the city of Asheville, is a public record.
June 25, 2012 1:55 PM

From The Des Moines Register:

Additional email exchanges between former Des Moines schools superintendent Nancy Sebring and her male lover became public Friday after a Polk County judge refused to block their release.

[...]

District Judge Robert Hanson’s ruling on Friday said Sebring’s argument that “purely personal communications” aren’t matters of public interest “indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the public interest is.”

June 25, 2012 10:54 AM

From htrnews.com:

Wisconsin uses a patchwork system to regulate mobile home communities that often forces communities like Plymouth to act alone when a park owner won’t make repairs to houses with malfunctioning plumbing, broken heating systems and mold-covered walls, a Gannett Wisconsin Media investigation has found.

Even though the state has the authority to respond to residents’ complaints and to take away park owners’ licenses, responsibility for oversight is spread between two agencies. The results can be long delays in responding, frustration for residents whose complaints bounce around in state bureaucracy and unchecked health risks for tenants, many of whom are elderly and poor.

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