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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November 12, 2014 12:46 PM

The Washington Coalition for Open Government will present its 2014 Ballard/Thompson Award to Senate Majority Floor Leader Joe Fain (R-Auburn, 47th District) on Jan. 26 in Olympia.

The award honors a state legislator who demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of open government during the previous legislative session.

The coalition is honoring Fain for being the prime sponsor of ESB 5964, which mandates that most elected officials (except legislators) and public records officers are to receive training at least every four years on records retention, disclosure and public meetings. Continue>>>

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November 11, 2014 10:57 AM

The chairwoman of the town’s Public Celebrations Committee and the vice president of Wallingford Center Inc. said they believe their groups are separate entities and disputed the claim that WCI has taken on Celebrations Committee tasks and is subject to state freedom-of-information rules.

In a filing with the Freedom of Information Commission, Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said WCI has taken on tasks assigned to the Public Celebrations Committee by the Town Charter. Fishbein has filed a complaint with the commission. Among other things, he is seeking the public release of WCI meeting minutes and agendas.

“Article VIII of the Wallingford Code establishes a Public Celebrations Committee ... Many of these tasks, it seems, have been undertaken by Wallingford Center Inc., for instance, improvements to the Wallingford town green, initiatives to improve streetscapes and the appearance of store fronts, holiday decoration efforts, as well as the organization of Celebrate Wallingford, a 2-day festival held annually in the town of Wallingford,” Fishbein wrote in a response to a preliminary ruling by the commission that it has no jurisdiction over WCI because it is not a public entity. Contintue>>>

November 11, 2014 10:52 AM

New information obtained by the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request indicates that a flight ban in Ferguson, Mo., may have been intended to stop press coverage rather than just protect local law enforcement.

After reports that rounds were fired at police aircraft over Ferguson in early August, just days after Michael Brown’s death, the St. Louis County Police Department requested a no-fly zone from the Federal Aviation Administration supposedly as a safety precaution. The FAA approved an initial ban of no flights below 5,000 feet except for police and commercial aircraft.

But recently, the AP released recordings of conversations between the FAA and the police obtained through a FOIA request to the FAA. The recordings indicate the temporary flight ban actually may have been intended to keep the media out: “They finally admitted it really was to keep the media out” said one FAA manager about the police. Continue>>>

November 11, 2014 10:46 AM

Now the public has no way of finding out what kind of information is being circulated among network members or with the federal government

What if the private sector banded together to create its own intelligence sharing networks exempt from FOIA law and public accountability?

In the last decade a number of different industries ranging from financial services and health care to nuclear energy and defense have created what are known as Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs). They allow member companies to share information anonymously without fear that it will be subject to FOIA requests or anti-trust violations. Now the oil and gas industry is getting in on the act. Continue>>>

November 11, 2014 10:40 AM

The Port of Vancouver, already facing one lawsuit accusing it of violating Washington's open public meetings law, has left the public in the dark more than once in landing one of the largest financial deals in its history, an investigation by The Columbian has found.

Public records obtained by the newspaper show that the port's three-member elected commission met privately on April 9, 2013, with officials from the two companies proposing an oil transfer terminal at the port. That gathering occurred about two weeks before Tesoro, a petroleum refiner, and Savage, a transportation company, publicly announced their joint venture to develop the Northwest's largest oil transfer terminal at the port.

The stated purpose of that closed-door meeting: to discuss a minimum price for land the port would sell or lease for the oil terminal, a legally acceptable reason for a closed session. In reality, public documents show that Tesoro and Savage executives pitched the port commissioners on Tesoro's "high-performing culture" and "safety and reliability," Savage's focus on "giving back to the community," and a wide range of other topics that filled a 51-page slide presentation. Continue>>>

November 11, 2014 10:34 AM

Tuesday, the people of St. Augustine elected Nancy Shaver as Mayor, empowered by a decade of disclosures about our flawed city government.

We owe this election to the 3.8 million Florida voters who enacted Article I, Section 24 of our Florida Constitution on Nov. 3, 1992 (83 percent of the vote), enshrining our Florida Sunshine laws. Those laws are still too-often disrespected, but are arguably stronger than our federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Our Department of the Interior flouts FACA in implementing the federal St. Augustine 450th Commemoration Commission, unconvincingly claimed to be an “operating committee,” not an advisory committee. That Commission meets at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 15, 2014, at the Casa Monica Hotel.

I have requested to open the meeting under FACA and speak about the proposed St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Continue>>>

November 11, 2014 10:28 AM

After most municipal elections, newly elected officials and returning incumbents are invited to a forum at Town Hall about public meeting protocol and the Freedom of Information Act.

And while it is often said that showing up is half the job, in this instance, it is the wrong half. Next year they should listen carefully, ask some questions, maybe even be required to take some notes and pass a short quiz afterward, because the lessons never seem to stick.

Instilled with a new sense of the importance of open government, these men and women go off to their meetings and close the doors to the public at every chance they get. All it takes is someone to say "we need to go into executive session" and everyone lemming-like follows along. I'm sure, or at least I hope, there are occasional challenges, but if so, they are the rare exception. Continue>>>

November 10, 2014 1:13 AM

Voters in northern Beaufort County turned two incumbents out of local office on Election Day and replaced them with political newcomers -- an unquestionable sign of discontent with business as usual.

Whether the electorate was specifically distressed about open government and adherence to the state's Freedom of Information Act is less clear. Certainly, however, the winning candidates made these issues part of their platforms.

Now, their job is to champion transparency as vigorously in office as they did on the campaign trail. Continue>>>
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November 10, 2014 1:12 AM

The city has released details of a plan to help provide even more transparency and efficiency to city governance.

The Open Data Strategic Plan uses a comprehensive method termed the “open data census,” to help officials better track and confront crime and other quality of life issues, and for residents to find out what various city agencies are doing.

The plan is for the data to be used by city officials so they can also go about their work more efficiently. Continue>>>
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November 10, 2014 1:11 AM

Eight months after it was formed, the city’s Open Government Task Force is putting the finishing touches on recommendations it hopes will make it easier for residents to engage with their government.

The nine-member panel, which was formed in the wake of the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, found that City Hall needs to restore public trust by being more transparent, engaged with the community and adept at communicating in times of crisis.

Suggestions include hiring a communications director who advocates for openness, adopting a sunshine ordinance that requires city officials to be more transparent than required by state and federal law, and making it easier for residents to participate in City Council meetings. Continue>>>
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November 10, 2014 1:10 AM

A housing agency's leader Little Rock, Arkansas has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he failed to comply with the Freedom of Information Act by withholding documents from an Arkansas newspaper.

Metropolitan Housing Alliance Executive Director Rodney Forte entered the plea Thursday and is set to stand trial on the misdemeanor charge in January, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1uFGKJA ) reported.

A Little Rock judge issued an arrest warrant for Forte in October over accusations that he failed to provide documents that the newspaper requested during a three-month period. Continue>>>
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November 10, 2014 1:09 AM

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on a bill to update the Freedom of Information Act as one of its first items once lawmakers return to Washington next week.

The committee is planning to vote on the FOIA Improvement Act on the morning of Nov. 13, it announced on Friday.

The bill, introduced by panel Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) earlier this year, would require federal agencies to adopt a “preemption of openness” when considering whether to release documents under the landmark transparency law. Continue>>>
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