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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October 31, 2012 2:14 PM

From TechCrunch:

As hurricane-battered East Coasters turn to online crisis maps for weather updates and evacuation notices, we should all take a moment to give kudos to the spreadsheet nerds who advocated opening up the very government data reserves that now fuel these online tools.
 
From Google’s hurricane hub to the The New York Times evacuation map, life-saving online tools draw from a recent and relatively underfunded set of government programs that release information in ways conducive to third-party developers. “Open data is critical in crisis situations because it allows government to inform and serve more people than it ever could on its own through conventional channels ... ” New York City’s Chief Digital Officer, Rachel Haot, writes to TechCrunch in an email (hopefully from a safe place).

October 31, 2012 2:10 PM

From The Republic:

ATLANTA — The Georgia Attorney General's Office has told University of Georgia officials that the state's colleges and universities may close student disciplinary hearings to the public under Georgia's Open Meeting Act. ... They've been open to the public since 1993.
 
Assistant Attorney General Kelly Campanella announced the decision in a letter, which was sent to UGA officials last week, according to The Fulton County Daily Report (http://bit.ly/PF2Bh6).
 
[...]
 
Critics of closing the hearings have said that public safety could be jeopardized if serious crimes go unreported and are not known by others outside of the hearing.

October 31, 2012 2:02 PM

From SFGate:

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Evidence collected in the high-profile 1993 murders of three Cub Scouts in northeast Arkansas cannot be released to their parents under the state's open records law, though they may be able to pursue other legal avenues, a judge ruled this week.
 
The ruling came in a lawsuit that seeks access to evidence in the slayings of 8-year-old friends Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. Three men, known as the West Memphis Three, were convicted as teenagers for the murders in 1994 but released last year following years of questions about the case.
 
Judge Victor Hill said neither West Memphis police nor prosecutor Scott Ellington violated the open records law. But the judge added: "These items might be available for viewing under some other provision of the statutory or common law, which plaintiffs are free to argue at a later hearing."
 

October 31, 2012 1:55 PM

From Daily Record:

A superior court judge removed a temporary restraining order Monday that barred Central Washington University from releasing documents related to a sexual harassment investigation involving professor and state House of Representatives candidate Mathew Manweller.
 
The ruling by Kittitas County Superior Court Judge Scott Sparks left CWU free to release redacted investigation records to the public. Sparks denied a motion to dismiss the case. 
 
“This is a hard area, because public records are so fundamentally the public’s records,” Sparks said. “When the public pays for something, usually it is the public’s. But we also like to think that we have privacy.”

October 30, 2012 11:18 AM

From Gambit New Orleans News and Entertainment:

An article in the Monroe News-Star last May about a controversial faith-based school getting approved for hundreds of taxpayer-financed vouchers has ignited a legal conflagration over Louisiana's Public Records Act and Gov. Bobby Jindal's ongoing efforts to keep the public's business under wraps. The dispute began as a public records squabble between the News-Star and the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE), but it has since escalated to include major media outlets across the state, the LSU Board of Supervisors (which has refused to turn over documents relating to draconian cuts to LSU-run hospitals) and the governor's office.
 
[...]
 
The Louisiana Public Records Law requires a response to all document requests within three business days. It further requires immediate disclosure if records are readily available. If the records are not readily available, the law gives a public body three days to make it available. If a response to a request is not received within five business days, the requestor is allowed to sue — and potentially recover attorneys' fees.

October 29, 2012 12:57 PM

From SPLC.org:

NORTH CAROLINA — A two-year battle for documents detailing an investigation in NCAA violations is over, with public records being released to The Daily Tar Heel and other media organizations today and in the coming days.
 
The eight media outlets will receive the records after agreeing to a settlement with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which follows an earlier ruling this year by a North Carolina judge that found many parts of the documents in question to be public.
 
The documents set to be released include those used during an October 2011 hearing by the NCAA Committee of Infractions. These include statements-of-fact relating to individual football players’ NCAA violations, reinstatement requests and billing related to legal fees incurred by the university.

Also see this editorial from the The Daily Tar Heel.

October 29, 2012 12:51 PM

From Omaha.com:

Advocates of open government are fighting to prevent the modern convenience of email from modernizing the way politicians keep secrets.
 
In a battle that has reached Nebraska, they are challenging government officials who route public business through private email accounts to avoid public disclosure.
 
The core question in these disputes: When does a private email sent by a public official become public?

October 29, 2012 10:30 AM

From Bloomberg:

Richard Bowen ... is the former senior executive at Citigroup Inc. (C) who in November 2007 issued a clarion call to his colleagues and Citi’s board that a major credit-quality problem loomed for the bank.
 
What he had discovered was that 60 percent of the home mortgages that Citigroup had bought from third parties, or $30 billion, were “defective,” meaning that they didn’t meet Citigroup’s underwriting criteria. Nevertheless, they were still packaged up -- defects and all -- and sold as securities.
 
[...]
 
You know where this is going. The Citigroup executives did next to nothing.

October 29, 2012 10:26 AM

Editorial from The Washington Post:

ACTIONS SPEAK louder than words, so it’s pretty telling that the D.C. Council, which professes to want transparency in government, has to be dragged into court over a specious policy that allows public business conducted on personal e-mail accounts to be shielded from disclosure. When will the council realize that only by opening up government can it show it has nothing to hide?

The D.C. Open Government Coalition filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court this month that challenges the council’s position that it doesn’t have to disclose e-mails sent to or received by council members through their personal, nongovernmental e-mail accounts, even if the correspondence involves official government business. The suit follows the council’s denial of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request this year by the coalition on the grounds that the council does not have active control or access to those accounts.

Such reasoning, as coalition board member James A. McLaughlin pointed out, represents “a massive loophole in the District’s public-records law. ...

October 29, 2012 10:23 AM

From Jacksonville.com:

Jacksonville city employees will receive clearer information about how to comply with public record laws in coming months, part of an ongoing educational campaign by the city’s newly created Office of Public Accountability.

The office, which Mayor Alvin Brown established in March, has already been involved with formulating guidance on how text messages should be retained, a somewhat difficult logistics challenge the city just began grappling with recently.

October 29, 2012 10:20 AM

From Federation of American Scientists:

As often happens, the Federal Bureau of Investigation invoked national security a few years ago to justify withholding certain information from a Freedom of Information Act requester named Deirdre McKiernan Hetzler. 

But as rarely happens, a court last month critically assessed the FBI national security claim and ordered the Bureau to release some of the withheld information.

Ms. Hetzler, acting pro se (i.e. without an attorney), had requested records concerning her deceased father, who had once been the subject of an FBI investigation. The FBI provided her with some records but withheld others, stating that they remained classified in order to protect an intelligence activity.

But after reviewing the withheld records in camera, Judge Michael A. Telesca of the Western District of New York determined that some of the information contained in them was not exempt from disclosure under FOIA. The FBI had been withholding it under the FOIA’s national security exemption even though it was actually unclassified or declassified.

October 26, 2012 12:50 PM

Keyboard key for AccessA 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:

Rhode Island’s most transparent lawmakers

(Oct 26, 2012) - The General Assembly’s commitment to open government and campaign transparency improved significantly during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, but lawmakers still fall behind when it comes to judicial selection and ethics reform, according to the annual Common Cause legislative scorecard released Thursday. The report broke down 28 House votes and 27 Senate votes that focused on campaign finance and election reform, ethics and lobbying reform, judicial selection, open government and separation of powers and scored legislators based on how they voted.

Visit GoLocalProv.com for the rest.

Ark. AG upholds FOIA denial in request of school superintendent

(Oct 26, 2012) - Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has upheld a decision made by Harrison superintendent Melinda Moss to withhold certain information requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Visit HarrisonDaily.com for the rest.

Dispute in Muskegon: Freedom of Information doesn't always equal free information

Muskegon, MI (Oct 25, 2012) - Does the public’s right to examine public documents include its right to know the cost to do so beforehand? The Education Action Group says “yes,” after filing a Freedom of Information Act request for records from Muskegon Public Schools and receiving a $311.50 bill that is now 90 days past due. ... The EAG, which is based in Muskegon, sent FOIA requests to 25 school districts around the nation, including the Grand Rapids and Flint school districts. The request sought credit card statements, check registries, cell phone bills and superintendent expenses for the 2011 calendar year.

Visit MLive.com for the rest.

Judge hears from lawyers in West Memphis 3 evidence case

MARION, Ark. (KTHV) - Pam Hicks and Mark Byers, both parents of two victims in the 1993 West Memphis murders, were in court Wednesday trying to get a judge to allow them to see evidence from the murders. The lawsuit filed against West Memphis police, prosecuting attorney Scott Ellington, and others is an effort to use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to allow the parents to see physical evidence linked to their son's murders.

Visit Today's THV for the rest.

Gov. Bentley rejects Ala. open records request

(Oct 24, 2012) - Gov. Robert Bentley's office says Alabama's open records law doesn't cover budget cut proposals he could have implemented if Alabama voters had rejected the transfer of $437 million to the state General Fund budget. The Decatur Daily filed a public records request asking for correspondence between the governor and his staff or agency heads about possible cuts and about plans for early retirement incentives for public employees.

Visit Alabama Public Radio for the rest.

Deferred prosecution ends Texas open meetings investigation

(Oct 24, 2012) - Travis County Attorney David Escamilla today issued a seven-page press release to announce the results of an investigation that began 21 months ago into the question of whether then-members of the Austin City Council violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. ... The agreements signed by each elected official affirm long lists of detailed, specific communications among the council members that constitute probable cause. These include specific dates on which a quorum of the council communicated face-to-face, in phone calls, and via e-mail and text messages.

Visit TheAustinBulldog.org for the rest.

'Can I ask for that?' Learn about public records and open meetings at 2 St. Paul sessions

(Oct 24, 2012) - A seminar designed to teach members of the public the basics of Minnesota's public records and open meetings laws will be held in St. Paul next month. "Can I ask for that? Government Records and Open Meetings in Minnesota," sponsored by the Pioneer Press and the St. Paul Public Library, features speakers from the Information Policy Analysis Division, the state office that helps members of the public and government agencies with their questions about government records and open meetings.

Visit TwinCities.com for the rest.

FERPA not meant to hide investigations from public, Utah

(Oct 24, 2012) - The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, also known as FERPA, was originally intended to ensure only parents and students had access to academic records, such as report cards and transcripts. But in recent years, FERPA has been used to shield documents that would ordinarily be public, such as parking tickets issued to student athletes, meeting minutes, investigations into academic dishonesty in collegiate athletics, and settlements of lawsuits against school districts.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

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