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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September 28, 2012 1:55 PM

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:

Obama cabinet flunks disclosure test with 19 in 20 ignoring law

Not just a state story, obviously, but interesting and important.

On his first full day in office, President Barack Obama ordered federal officials to “usher in a new era of open government” and “act promptly” to make information public. As Obama nears the end of his term, his administration hasn’t met those goals, failing to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, according to an analysis of open-government requests filed by Bloomberg News.

Nineteen of 20 cabinet-level agencies disobeyed the law requiring the disclosure of public information: The cost of travel by top officials. In all, just eight of the 57 federal agencies met Bloomberg’s request for those documents within the 20-day window required by the Act.

Visit Bloomberg for the rest.

New Orleans close to settling NOPD public records lawsuit

NEW ORLEANS -- Eyewitness News has learned the city is close to settling a lawsuit for withholding public police records, stepping in to pay the judgment that was lodged personally against NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas. Serpas was supposed to appear in court Thursday for a financial assessment after the city lost a 2009 public records lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center.

Visit WWLTV.com for the rest.

Two cases threaten public’s right to government transparency in Washington state

The 40-year tradition of government transparency in Washington came under attack recently on two separate fronts. ... Earlier this month, the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council violated the Open Public Meeting Act by holding a closed-door meeting with a quorum of members without public notice, and making a final decision to hire a new permanent director. ... More recently, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office lost a battle in the state Court of Appeals to conceal documents from an Olympia resident, and was fined $2,175. In withholding a three-page document, the governor claimed her office had “executive privilege,” and that it trumped the state’s Public Records Act.

Visit The Olympian for the rest.

Budget cuts to hobble state archives in Georgia

MORROW, Ga. — The Georgia Archives, which holds both historical curiosities and virtually every important state government document ever created, is about to become nearly impossible to visit. In November, a round of government budget cuts will reduce the staff to three, one of them the maintenance man. Thousands of documents that pour in every month are likely to languish because no one will be available to sort through them, archives officials said. People who view accurate and open government records as the bedrock of democracy are outraged.

The move will make Georgia the only state without an archives open to the public on a regular basis. But this closing is simply the most severe symptom of a greater crisis facing permanent government collections in nearly every state, professional archivists say.

Visit New York Times for the rest.

Proposed Michigan bill would limit fees for public records

MICHIGAN — A proposed Michigan bill would amend the state’s Freedom of Information Act to limit fees and increase the consequences for delays in responding to requests. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson County), would limit the copying costs to a maximum 10 cents a page. For labor fees, public agencies would only be allowed to charge an hourly wage of the lowest paid employee capable of retrieving the information, according to the proposed bill.

Visit Student Press Law Center for the rest.

Bainbridge's fired police examiner receives open government award

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. — A Bainbridge woman who was fired as the city's police examiner last year after questioning city policies has received an award from an open government group. The Washington Coalition for Open Government presented its Key Award to Kim Hendrickson at a Sept. 19 ceremony. The award recognizes a person who has promoted transparency in government.

Visit Kitsap Sun for the rest.

September 28, 2012 9:55 AM

From MySanAntonio.com:

In a victory for open government, a federal court Tuesday ruled against a lawsuit filed by Texas municipal officials who have been fighting for six years to escape criminal penalties for holding public meetings behind closed doors.

A three-judge panel with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that criminal penalties in the state's open meetings law do not violate the First Amendment rights of politicians, dismissing the argument made on behalf of 15 local government leaders from Sugar Land to Wichita Falls.

September 28, 2012 9:36 AM

From Courthouse News:

SEATTLE, Wash. (CN) - A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to remove redactions from records that track violent gangs and terrorist organizations, and gave the agency two weeks to hand over the files to the ACLU.

U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik's ruling ends years-long wrangling over the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a nationwide database operated by the FBI. The NCIC provides online access of criminal justice information for local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement officers, government agencies, financial institutions and prospective employers.

September 28, 2012 9:27 AM

From American Civil Liberties Union:

Today we sued the federal government to enforce Freedom of Information Act requests we filed over the summer to learn about how it is using a technology that can track Americans’ location with increasing efficacy: automated license plate readers. (See today’s legal complaint, our original FOIA requests, and a blog we posted when we made those requests.)

We know enough about the rapid expansion of this technology to be very concerned about it, but there’s a lot we don’t know.That is why ACLU affiliates from 38 states and Washington, D.C. filed records requests in July 2012 with their state and local police departments to find out how they are collecting, sharing, and storing our location data using these systems.

September 28, 2012 9:06 AM

From Courthouse News:

(CN) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture can release the revenue and sales data of Missouri dog breeders and dealers to the Humane Society, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled.

[...]

The Humane Society of the United States had filed multiple FOIA requests in 2009, seeking reports that breeders and dealers file annually with the USDA. Those reports list their gross revenue and/or commissions from the past year's dog sales, the number of dogs bought and sold that year and, for dealers, the difference between the sale price and purchase price of those dogs.Missouri breeders and dealers claimed that the Humane Society sought the information "to destroy" their businesses.

September 28, 2012 9:02 AM

From Banner Graphic:

With Indiana Public Access Counselor Joe Hoage at Greencastle City Hall Thursday evening, public officials and private citizens got a lesson in Indiana's Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.

Sponsored by the Greencastle League of Women Voters and the Banner Graphic, the event was designed to educate people on some of the rules and misconceptions surrounding these two laws designed to ensure transparency in public bodies.

September 28, 2012 8:59 AM

From Knoxville News Sentinel:

The Civic Data Challenge, a partnership between the National Conference on Citizenship and the Knight Foundation has announced the winners of its challenge to build civic health applications. Separately, the Knight Foundation announced the winners of its Knight News Challenge on data, which seeks to advance the growing field of data journalism. Winners of both challenges are using open government data to power their work. CivSource spoke with John Bracken of the Knight Foundation about the winners.

[...]

The data challenge, one of three launched by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation this year, accelerates projects with funding and advice from Knight’s network of media innovators. For the data round, Knight Foundation sought ideas that make the large amounts of information produced each day available, understandable and actionable. The winners of the challenge will present their projects via live Web stream at 4 p.m. EDT/1 p.m. PDT Saturday, Sept. 22, from the Online News Association conference in San Francisco. The final news challenge round this year will focus on mobile initiatives. The first challenge for next year will center on open government issues.

September 28, 2012 8:25 AM

From Knoxville News Sentinel:

A year ago, President Obama and 46 other heads of state launched the Open Government Partnership, an initiative designed to increase transparency within governments around the world.

[...]

According to OpenTheGovernment.org, a watchdog group, the administration has made substantial progress in areas ranging from public participation in government to whistleblower protections for personnel. But OMBWatch noted that the administration has made little significant progress in some important areas, including efforts to modernize policies for managing public records and reduce response times for Freedom of Information Act requests. NextGov has reported previously that the administration’s claims of transparency don’t always reflect the experience of journalists, lawmakers and other citizens seeking information about government actions and activity.

September 28, 2012 8:10 AM

From Knoxville News Sentinel:

The News Sentinel received the Freedom of Information Award from the Associated Press Managing Editors during the journalism organization's national convention this week in Nashville.

The award recognizes journalists or newspapers who advance freedom of information, make good use of FOI principles or statutes, or significantly widen the scope of information available to the public.

September 28, 2012 8:03 AM

From The Washington Post:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The U.S. Justice Department on Friday made public the names of 55 Guantanamo prisoners who have been approved for transfer to the custody of other countries, releasing information sought by human rights organizations.

The announcement, which reverses a 2009 decision, was a surprise to organizations that had filed FOIA requests seeking the information.

September 28, 2012 7:58 AM

From MassLive.com:

SPRINGFIELD – Michael T. Kogut, chairman of Citizens Against Casino Gaming, announced on Friday that he has submitted a request for public records from the city, detailing its contract and all costs related to the hire of a casino consultant.

Kogut, in a letter to the Law Department, asked for a copy of the contract with the consultant, Shefsky & Froelich, of Chicago, and for all invoices and charges which the city has paid to date.

September 25, 2012 2:02 PM

From Press-citizen.com:

During the Sept. 18 open government workshop with the Iowa Newspaper Association, local citizens learned much about how to use the state’s public records and open meetings laws to hold their officials accountable. But the existing laws have one major weakness: they still allow circumvention through a process called “walking quorums.”

[...]

In an effort to circumvent the spirit of the Open Meetings law, governing bodies in Iowa often employ a process known as “walking quorum,” where plans are presented to only one or two elected officials at a time. City staff retains control of all information, as well as of the spin placed on all related issues.

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