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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May 14, 2015 2:30 PM

Unresponsive democratic governments fail.

One deadly feature of such governments is a lack of transparency. When leaders decided citizens didn’t need to know about the workings of government, citizens lost a lens to determine how responsive government was, often this created mistrust, which led to anger and eventually, rebellion.

I was heartened when police body-worn camera bills were proposed in the S.C. legislature — it was a direct check on the power of the state’s executive branch by the legislature. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2015 1:09 PM

Limits on transparency in government and the germs of plans to fund road improvements began emerging in bills introduced by members of the state House of Representatives and Senate last week.

One bill would exempt information about pipeline and energy infrastructure from Freedom of Information laws, while another would exempt certain state boards from Open Meetings Act requirements.

Two bills dealing with fixing Michigan's roads were introduced in the wake of a crushing defeat of Proposal 1 on Tuesday — voters rejected the ballot proposal by an 80%-20% margin — which would have raised the sales tax to improve roads and provide funding for schools, local governments and working poor people. Continue>>>
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April 6, 2015 12:50 PM

Transparency is inconvenient. It’s inconvenient for the reporter who’s trying to report the news and it’s inconvenient for the government that attempts to hide information.

“It is not unique for federal officials to go to great lengths to get around having to turn over documents or respond,” Sharyl Attkisson said during a keynote address last week at the University of Florida’s public information conference, “Breaking Down Walls: The Fight for Open Government.”

One journalist told the tale of being denied documents about the terrorists who held him hostage for six years because it would infringe upon his captors’ privacy. Continue>>>
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April 3, 2015 2:15 PM

A notice the Obama administration placed in the Federal Register earlier this month seemed to confirm once and for all what many transparency advocates have treated as a given for years: The White House is beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.

Well, not so fast.

The formal notice, awkwardly made public as many transparency advocates were celebrating Sunshine Week, officially withdrew long-dormant regulations that once created procedures for FOIA requests to part of the White House known as the Office of Administration. The George W. Bush White House actually stopped processing such requests about a decade ago. (They sat on one of mine for several years before sending a short letter saying they had no intention of fulfilling it.) Continue>>>
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March 16, 2015 12:12 PM

In the typical legislative session, a lot of important work is quietly undertaken outside the glare of attention granted to those high-profile and politically charged issues that grab the lion’s share of news coverage. Such is the case with some meaningful changes to Utah’s records laws that will encourage greater government transparency.

The state’s Government Records and Management Act (GRAMA) has been considered something of a model for open records laws across the country because of its disposition toward making the vast majority of records open and accessible. That posture will be further enhanced by passage of SB157, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo. Among other things, the measure would specifically make records of complaints against telemarketing businesses filed with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection open to the public.

Controversy over how those records are classified arose in the context of the scandal involving former Utah attorneys general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, who have been accused of personal entanglements with people tied to allegations of telemarketing fraud. Sen. Bramble’s measure sets forth a mechanism for the public to screen records about such businesses while also respecting the privacy rights of individuals who are the target of consumer complaints. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2015 11:38 AM

A panel of experts assembled to offer advice on transparency issues is not subject to the state’s open meetings law. At least that’s the opinion of Ann Butterworth, who heads the Comptroller’s Office of Open Records Counsel.

She made the finding in response to an email activist Ken Jakes’ request for more information about a recent teleconference held by the 14-member Advisory Committee on Open Government.

“Is that not ironic that the very office that holds the responsibility of seeing that the citizens have access is involved in blocking access?” Jakes said. Continue>>>

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February 9, 2015 12:51 PM

A legislative proposal that had concerned government transparency advocates has been withdrawn by the bill’s sponsor.

Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, pulled House Bill 232 Thursday morning right before it was about to be debated by the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee.

His action effectively kills the legislation, since Friday is the deadline for bills clear the committee in their house of origin. Thursday was the last meeting this week for the House Corporations Committee. Continue>>>
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February 6, 2015 1:14 PM

Government transparency advocates say they are concerned about a newly filed bill that would change Wyoming’s public meetings law.

House Bill 232 would allow public agencies to “take action upon information classified as confidential by law” in executive session.

The state’s current law allows governing bodies to enter into the secret sessions, which are closed from the public, to debate or receive information on a range of specified topics, such as personnel matters or proposed litigation. Continue>>>
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January 21, 2015 12:39 PM

A pledge circulated by advocates of government transparency to garner support for the state’s Freedom of Information Act has yielded additional signatures since it was reissued earlier this month.

None of the latest round of signatures came from New London or Windham counties.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman is one of 10 elected officials to add their name to the pledge, which was created by the nonprofit Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information, founded in 1955. It asked respondents to vow to support the state’s Freedom of Information Act and to do whatever they could “to require that any proposals to weaken or impair the FOI Act be presented for debate at public hearings before any action is taken on them.” Continue>>>
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January 20, 2015 12:56 PM

IN EARLY December, President Obama announced a series of measures aimed at closing the gap between citizens and law enforcement. One of those measures was a plan to distribute $263 million in funding for agencies to purchase body cameras that can be used during police interactions with citizens.

Immediately, there was discussion among my counterparts in other states about whether video captured by the cameras would be subject to release under state public records laws (in Virginia, it’s called the Freedom of Information Act). On one side is the need for public accountability, on the other side are privacy concerns for victims, witnesses and informants (certainly there are other issues on both sides, but for now, those are the two biggies).
In Seattle, instead of gathering talking heads like myself in a room to hammer out statutes or regulations, the police department there convened a “hackathon” to figure out a technological solution. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:28 PM

A good government is one that responds to the wishes of the public. But the public cannot know how responsive its government is when much of what government does lies outside public view. Hence the need for transparency, the handmaiden of accountability.

A new coalition, Transparency Virginia, has been formed to monitor and improve openness at the state level. It will focus on the sometimes overlooked mechanics: meeting notices, ensuring that all bills get heard, and the recording of votes in committees and subcommittees.

All three are important; the last element deserves special mention. For years the House of Delegates has shanked important legislation — such as that regarding nonpartisan redistricting — in unrecorded subcommittee votes, leaving the public to wonder which members tried to save it and which plunged in the knife. No wonder voters are cynical. Continue>>>
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December 17, 2014 5:25 PM

The Wichita City Council can decide to increase transparency in regards to spending, or let it remain being spent in secret.

The City of Wichita has three surrogate quasi-governmental agencies that are almost totally taxpayer-funded, specifically Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Each agency contends it is not a “public agency” as defined in Kansas law, and therefore does not have to fulfill records requests.

These agencies spend considerable sums of tax money. This week the city will consider funding Go Wichita with a budget of $2,356,851 for 2015. That is not all the taxpayer money this agency will spend, as earlier this year the council voted to increase the city’s hotel tax by 2.75 cents per dollar, with the proceeds going to Go Wichita. City documents indicate that tax is estimated to generate $2.3 million per year. Continue>>>
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