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 8, 2014 1:00 PM

A bill before the state House of Representatives aims to mend gaps in Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law. It actually may do more harm than good.

The bill was passed by the Senate on Sept. 24. Including today, there are six days left in the legislative session, and Senate Bill 444 is now before the House. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The current Right-to-Know law, well into its fifth year, increased the public's access to government records by shifting the burden of proof: An agency now trying to deny a record must provide legal grounds for keeping it secret. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:57 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe has served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former newspaper publisher and state newspaper association director who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:55 PM

A state tax official conducted a background research on a Republican party official after receiving a public information request, the Daily News has learned.

Without mentioning his job, Joe Uddo, who is the political director for the state GOP, had filed a ìFreedom of Information Law' request on Aug. 22 with the tax department seeking to understand why some taxpayers had been disqualified from a property tax exemption program.

Days before the request was rejected last month, Uddo received a message from the online professional networking site LinkedIn that someone had reviewed his profile, which identified him as a GOP official. That person turned out to be a tax department employee who received Uddo's freedom of information request. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:53 PM

Many people continue to be surprised that the voters of San Jose, Calif., a city with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, approved a public-pension-reform ballot measure in June 2012 with a nearly 70 percent yes vote. How is this possible in liberal California, despite stringent objections from public-employee unions?

Two words: open government.

Before the vote, San Jose experienced 10 years of cutting services to balance the budget. Thousands of city jobs were eliminated. Layoffs included police officers and firefighters.

In 2011, the city council adopted a fiscal reform plan that saved San Jose from service-delivery insolvency. The pension-reform ballot measure is just one element of this plan. The resultant savings have allowed San Jose to avoid insolvency and improve services for three straight years. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:12 PM

Part of the college experience in Norman is the daily fight for a place to park. With more cars than parking spots, the university hands out tens of thousands of parking tickets.

Data from the University shows the school gave nearly 60,000 parking tickets last year---bringing in nearly a million dollars in fines alone.

Enter Joey Stipek, a journalist and special projects editor for the school paper, the Oklahoma Daily. "I'm just doing my job, I just want access to the records," Stipek said. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:11 PM

Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency's secret surveillance of U.S. citizens. Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the British news organization The Guardian, made sure the world heard it.

The files Snowden stole from the NSA revealed the agency collected phone records in bulk, gained secret access to data kept by private companies such as Google and Facebook, cracked Internet encryption codes and listened in on the private phone calls of 35 world leaders. The British spy agency GCHQ also was implicated. And there likely are more revelations to come.

Rusbridger traveled to Syracuse Wednesday to accept the Tully Award for Free Speech from the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. After publishing the Snowden material, the editor was threatened with espionage charges, grilled by a parliamentary commission and forced to smash computers containing the stolen files. He may still be under police investigation. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:10 PM

Thomas Duncan, a 42-year-old Liberian citizen, is in serious condition with Ebola in a Dallas hospital. His partner Louise is confined to the Dallas apartment where Duncan became very sick from the virus. Texas health officials have placed her, one of her children, and two nephews in their 20s, under quarantine. This means they have been ordered, under threat of prosecution, by the county not to leave their home or have any contact with outsiders for 21 days. Any exception requires the approval of the local or Texas state health department.

Have government officials done what they need to do to prepare us for the reality of quarantine in a time of Ebola? No. But if there is a deadly communicable disease, they can lock us up for weeks at a time. Personal freedom and liberty are foundational American values. But in the face of a threat of death, liberty can and should be, as we are watching in Dallas, limited so that you can't move around freely and infect others.

The federal government derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Under the Public Health Service Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the CDC are authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of deadly communicable diseases from foreign countries into the United States and between states. Ebola surely meets that description. So quarantine at an airport or the harbor is legal, and we should be ready to see it used. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:08 PM

The open government track at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival featured panel discussions on what legislators should disclose, open records, state budget transparency and "dark money" vs. donor privacy. Listen to audio from each session:

Tribune News Editor Corrie MacLaggan moderated the "How Much Should Legislators Disclose?" session, which got the Open Government track kicked off. Panelists included state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Jim Clancy, Texas Ethics Commissioner Wilhelmina Delco, state Rep. Jeff Leach and former state Rep. Steve Wolens.

2014 TribuneFest: Audio From the Open Government Track
by Ayan Mittra Oct. 4, 2014 1Comment
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The open government track at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival featured panel discussions on what legislators should disclose, open records, state budget transparency and "dark money" vs. donor privacy. Listen to audio from each session.

Tribune News Editor Corrie MacLaggan moderated the "How Much Should Legislators Disclose?" session, which got the Open Government track kicked off. Panelists included state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Texas Ethics Commission Chairman Jim Clancy, Texas Ethics Commissioner Wilhelmina Delco, state Rep. Jeff Leach and former state Rep. Steve Wolens.

The track's second session, "Putting the 'Open' in Open Records," was moderated by Tribune News Apps Developer Becca Aaronson. On the panel were the Bryan-College Station Eagle Editor Kelly Brown, Democratic Attorney General Nominee Sam Houston, lawyer Joe Larsen, Texas General Land Office Open Records Commissioner Hadassah Schloss and University of Texas System Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Dan Sharphorn. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:07 PM

Mary Burke was succinct. She used a single word ó"Yes" ó to answer four of six questions from the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council about open government.

The Democratic candidate for governor responded affirmatively when asked if she would... Burke, a Madison School Board member making her first run for statewide office, also said in her written responses that the Legislature should be subject to the state's open meetings law, though she continues to believe party caucuses should be able to meet in secret. Why?

Gov. Scott Walker, her Republican opponent, was less direct. In his written responses, Walker sidestepped the question about releasing calendars in advance, saying he makes his calendars available monthly upon request "as required by state law." He has continued predecessor Jim Doyle's approach of pre-announcing only select events, often with less than 24 hours' notice. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:05 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former publisher of the Spencer Daily News who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Monroe based that figure on information he gathered from other state entities that previously handled open meetings and open records issues, but it was merely an educated guess. He remembers hoping that first year would not break his promise. Continue>>>
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October 6, 2014 10:55 AM

Problems with harassment, sexual assault, fraud and other issues within the Alaska National Guard are serious business. The scathing report from the National Guard Bureau, the removal of Adjutant Gen. Thomas Katkus and Deputy Commissioner McHugh Pierre and additional promised shakeups in Guard leadership illustrate the gravity of the issues facing one of the state's prominent institutions. So itís difficult to understand Gov. Parnellís reticence in making public documents that would enhance the publicís understanding of what took place to warrant these actions and help ensure such missteps aren't made in the future.

In May, the Alaska Public Radio Network made a Freedom of Information Act request for emails between the governor's office, Gen. Katkus and Mr. Pierre related to the reports of problems in the Guard. The guidelines for FOIA requests state that agencies have 10 days to respond, with an additional 10 if more time is required to fulfill them. With the APRN request, the governor's office took 86 days before notifying the network it was rejecting their petition for information entirely.

Itís not as though the request slipped through the cracks. During the course of those three months, APRN said it made more than two dozen phone calls to the governor's office seeking a response, many of which were unreturned. When APRN finally received the rejection on Sept. 26, the governor's policy director Randy Ruaro said the communications, some of which came from Guard chaplains blowing the whistle on chain-of-command abuses, fell under the privilege between clergy members and their parishioners. Furthermore, Mr. Ruaro cited potential harm if victims' identities became known. Continue>>>
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October 6, 2014 10:55 AM

A review of the Internal Revenue Service's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act found the agency intentionally withheld or failed to "adequately search" for requested information in hundreds of cases.

In others, the IRS released more than it was authorized, dispensing "sensitive taxpayer information," including individuals' bank records. The number of FOIA requests that had piled up in the agency's backlog jumped 84 percent at the end of fiscal year 2013, the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration found in a report made public Wednesday. As of June 2014, the agency's backlog of FOIA requests had grown by an additional 16 percent.

TIGTA attributed the spike in backlogged information requests to the "influx of exempt organization requests starting in June 2013." It was learned in May 2013 that the IRS had targeted and harassed hundreds of Tea Party and conservative nonprofit applicants during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, sparking a national scandal that culminated in congressional and criminal investigations. Continue>>>
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FOIA requests, IRS, taxes
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