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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March 11, 2015 10:57 AM

Top Virginia officials frequently rely on an alternative to one of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s alleged methods of secrecy: Rather than use private emails, governors, university presidents and others hide behind state law.

The former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic presidential front-runner stepped into a thicket last week over her use of a private account to conduct official business. If she were the elected leader of Virginia or the top executive at one of the state’s public universities, it wouldn’t have mattered.

A gaping hole in Virginia’s open records law allows a wide range of public officials — including the governor, the attorney general, mayors and public university presidents — to withhold documents, including emails, under a so-called “working papers” exemption. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 10:50 AM

The types of transparency questions surrounding Hillary Rodham Clinton's use of personal email to conduct business while secretary of state have led in recent years to access fights in state capitals throughout the country.

Governors and other elected officials routinely use private emails, laptops and cellphones for government business, a popular strategy that sometimes helps them avoid public scrutiny of their actions.

Open-records fights over private emails have had varying results. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:51 PM

In August 2012, the conservative watchdog group Landmark Legal Foundation made a Freedom of Information Act request for records at the Environmental Protection Agency — specifically seeking records of any efforts to slow down the issue of new regulations until after the 2012 election.

FOIA requests are supposed to be acknowledged and complied with very promptly. In this case, EPA bureaucrats did precisely what the Freedom of Information Act is intended to prevent — they slow-walked Landmark's request past the 2012 elections, so that voters could not use the information to make their decision. They used one form of government opacity (foot-dragging) to protect another (a secretive regulatory process).

The incident raises an important question about government transparency in general. As the Roman poet Juvenal famously asked, "Who will guard the guards themselves?" Can bureaucrats be trusted when they are tasked with providing records of their own behavior? In this case, the answer is evidently no. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:47 PM

Hillary Clinton has said she wants the public to see 55,000 e-mails she turned over to the State Department that had been kept in her personal, unofficial e-mail account. But nobody should hold their breath waiting to see them. That’s because the State Department is legendary for taking forever to wade through and ultimately decide what documents can be released when.

That may be why – even after Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that agency officials would “undertake this task as rapidly as possible” – a State Department spokesman tamped down expectations, cautioning the process would be time-consuming given the volume of the record. That may also be why a senior State Department official told Reuters yesterday that “the review is likely to take several months given the sheer volume of the document set.”

And, the source might have added, given the State Department’s record. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:42 PM

It’s already been deemed the “Worst Bill of 2015,” and has united in opposition forces on the left, right and center who normally can’t agree on what color the sky is.

An editorial Wednesday morning in the Las Vegas Review-Journal described the bill:

Meet Senate Bill 28, which has its first hearing this afternoon before the Senate Government Affairs Committee. Brought on behalf of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities, SB28 attempts to make the release of public records so expensive that no one bothers asking for them. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:38 PM

Automatically deleting email after 90 days could lead to the accidental disposal of important records, the head of New York's Committee on Open Government told Capital, as the Cuomo administration presses ahead with its controversial new policy.

Robert Freeman, who has worked for the committee since it was founded in 1974, said there shouldn't be a fixed time governing when records are saved or discarded.

As Capital reported, the Cuomo administration last week fully implemented a policy of deleting any email not proactively saved for retention after 90 days. The result was a mass purge of messages in the inboxes of rank-and-file employees. Continue>>>

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March 9, 2015 11:34 PM

They routinely attract little public attention or news coverage. Yet last week's meeting of aides to the governor and Cabinet illustrates the importance of Florida's public meetings law. Only by requiring that the public's business be conducted in public can Floridians know what elected officials are up to and assess the potential impact.
For example, it became clear at the aides' meeting that Gov. Rick Scott remains determined to fire three more leaders of state agencies that report to the governor and Cabinet. The governor created a firestorm when he ousted Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey, who also reported to the governor and Cabinet, without public discussion or a public vote. Open government advocates and media organizations, including the Tampa Bay Times, have filed a lawsuit against the governor and Cabinet and alleged Bailey's ouster violated opening meetings requirements enshrined in the Florida Constitution and state law.

Undeterred, Scott wants Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Tuesday to approve new performance measures for agency heads that report to them. That's fine, but several important details came out when the aides discussed the situation in public. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 11:33 PM

The Washington State Archives has announced a series of open government training workshops throughout Washington in March in support of a state law that was introduced by the Washington State Attorney General‘s Office and passed in 2014.

The Open Government Trainings Act requires training for public officials, public disclosure officers and state-appointed records officers.

The free workshops, presented jointly by the State Archives and the Office of the Attorney General, provide an overview of the rules and requirements of records retention and management, open public meetings, and the state Public Records Act. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 2:51 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency's unacceptable attitude toward public-records requests earned terse words but no sanctions from a federal judge.

Though Landmark Legal Foundation failed to win spoliation sanctions against the EPA, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth agreed with it that the agency had failed its duty to protect and provide public information.

Landmark filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the EPA on Aug. 17, 2012, for any records since Jan. 1, 2012, of communication between EPA representatives and people or organizations outside the EPA about delaying announcements of new regulations until after the November 2012 presidential elections. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 1:14 PM

Lawmakers will scramble over each other to laud transparency and open government when considering legislation to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act.

But FOIA reform often faces a difficult path toward passage as speculation mounts over its unintended consequences, sometimes stalling action on the bill by Congress. Who launches this quiet resistance against changing the nation's foremost public records law?

Federal agencies, that's who. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 1:08 PM

The Seattle Police Department, for once, is in the headlines for completely positive reasons. Today, the department's new body camera streaming program—which auto-posts videos from the bodycam pilot program to YouTube—was covered by NBC's Today Show. And yesterday, the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) recognized Mike Wagers, the chief operating officer hired by Chief Kathleen O'Toole, for his involvement in launching the program.

"When the Seattle Police Department received an open records request to produce every video ever recorded by the department," WCOG said in a statement, "they didn’t stonewall or obfuscate like so many other agencies have done. Instead, SPD Chief Operating Officer Mike Wagers offered to work with the requestor on complying with these requests, while balancing privacy concerns and public disclosure requirements."

Wagers said he's accepting the award on behalf of the department and Tim Clemans, the 24-year-old programmer who requested all the videos. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2015 1:03 PM

Almost seven weeks into the legislative session, no fewer than 25 bills have been introduced that would affect open meetings, open records or public notice advertising in Iowa.

The bill that has received the most attention is one being fast-tracked that would seal data on Iowa's concealed weapons permit holders. But other bills are lurking in the wings that also would erode openness in our state's government.

Among them:

House study bill 162 would allow anyone to file a written request to prohibit their name, address and telephone number from being accessed on county Internet sites.
Senate file 385 would expand confidentiality of court records, allowing for the expungement of not-guilty verdicts and dismissed criminal charges.
Senate file 292 would make confidential certain juvenile court records.
House study bill 167 would seal records of applications to erect cell phone towers and infrastructure. Continue>>>
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