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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April 14, 2014 8:09 AM

Sometimes important public opinion research does not receive the attention it deserves. The Global Opening Government Survey – a study undertaken through collaboration between the World Bank’s Open Government Practice and RIWI Corporation, a Toronto-based company – is one such survey.

Global in scope, the Global Opening Government Survey spanned 63 countries on every continent. It asked the fundamental question: Do citizens perceive their governments to be open, as well as why, and how they want government to be more open.

Government openness is an important democratic requirement; it enables citizens to make informed choices, to question policies and hold politicians to account. In this sense, the extent to which citizens perceive government as open may be a litmus test for a healthy, democratic environment. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 2:33 AM

Why do Florida's government-in-the-sunshine laws matter so much? Because when nobody watches government closely, bad things happen.

Because democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and it's impossible to know what's happening without access to records and meetings.

Because how else would we know about the dangers of speeding cops in South Florida, or the prevalence of bear attacks in a Central Florida town, or the enormous number of sexual predators who attack again after their release?

People know about these threats because of government records obtained by the Sun Sentinel — and our sister paper, the Orlando Sentinel — in the past year. Before our reporters combed the records and connected the dots, no one had grasped the magnitude of the problems. No one would know yet, but for Florida's famous open-government laws. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2014 4:44 AM

The charge that South Burlington failed to publicly announce a gathering of a quorum of city councilors underscores the need for public officials to be far more aware of appearances.

The open meeting controversy brewing in the City Council also offers a cautionary tale for local politicians who must operate in a hyper-partisan environment.

Three city councilors — Pam McKenzie, Chris Shaw, and Pat Nowak — have been accused of violating the state’s open meetings law by attending the launch party for South Burlington’s Energy Committee. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2014 3:33 AM

Two Ohio Supreme Court decisions denying attorney fees to a woman who fought the city of South Euclid for public records represent major setbacks to the cause of open government in Ohio, according to the Ohio Newspaper Association.

“This is an egregious case,” said Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the ONA. “The city stonewalled the citizen requesting the information for months, and she even had to get an accountant to show that records the city claimed it didn’t have really existed.”

The court ruled on Feb. 18 in two separate cases brought by Emilie DeFranco against South Euclid that while she was entitled to damages up to a maximum of $1,000 because of the city’s unresponsiveness, state statutes meant she wasn’t entitled to recover legal fees. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2014 2:22 AM

Chances are a new initiative by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon won’t make tax time any easier, but it will be more interesting. Starting now, those who file state taxes online will have the chance to see where those tax dollars are going. A receipt will break down how much money is going to which state programs.


Concerned about public safety? You’ll find about $41.07 of every $1,000 in taxes goes toward that purpose. From pensions ($145.02) to schools ($237.44) and beyond, expenditures are detailed in both a chart and table.


“This is about transparency, openness and accountability,” Simon said. “If you receive a receipt for a $5 purchase at a gas station, you should be able to get one for your income taxes. The people of Illinois deserve to know where there money is going and how it’s being spent.” Continue>>>
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March 2, 2014 1:11 AM

What’s Sunshine Week, you ask?

The journalism associations behind the mid-March event describe Sunshine Week as “a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.” Sunshine is shorthand for the open-meetings and open-records laws that guarantee a governing body is operating in the open.

Last week the Alabama Senate did its part, passing a strengthened version of the state’s Open Meetings Act. Why was it necessary? Because in recent rulings the state Supreme Court weakened the act in key provisions. The bill would reinstate provisions that (a.) make sure open-meeting rules apply to the Legislature, (b.) allow residents to sue governments for violations of the law, and (c.) deny a few members of elected bodies to meet secretly to discuss the public’s business, a technique known as “serial meetings.”

A news release from the Alabama Press Association singled out sponsor Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, “for their leadership in getting this through the Senate.” Continue>>>
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February 26, 2014 1:11 AM

The National Press Club, as part of its participation in Sunshine Week, is hosting a panel discussion the evening of Wednesday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m. on transparency in the District of Columbia.

The third annual D.C. Open Government Summit will be an opportunity to hear from innovators who have used open government data and information to create useful tools for our daily lives, such as mapping restaurant health code violations or tracking the District's emergency response times. Traci Hughes, the first Director of the D.C. Office of Open Government, will give featured remarks.

The event is co-sponsored by the Club's Freedom of the Press Committee, the D.C. Open Government Coalition (www.dcogc.org), the D.C. Professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the American University School of Communication. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2014 2:22 AM

Taxpayers fund the operations of private prisons in Oklahoma, just as they do state and federal ones — but they largely don’t have access to the same information and records about those private facilities.

A new report argues that private prison operators should be subject to the same level of scrutiny and transparency as state- and federal-run prisons.

According to a report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, private prisons avoid greater public scrutiny because they are not subject to the same federal Freedom of Information Act and state open records law requirements as government-run prisons. Continue>>>
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February 20, 2014 2:22 AM

With a deadline for bills to pass one chamber of the Legislature looming next week, there has been little action on several measures meant to create more transparency in government.

A proposal to open judicial records outlining probable cause for search and arrest warrants that initially appeared to have bipartisan support may be watered down considerably after a few prosecutors objected.

A bill to make the Kansas Open Records Act apply to certain nonprofit marketing and economic development agencies that receive public funds has been shifted to another committee, with no hearing scheduled. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2014 4:44 AM

More than two centuries ago, the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe established the cornerstones of this great commonwealth and the United States.

They built this commonwealth and nation understanding a fundamental principle — that without transparent and open government accountable to the people, those people cannot be free.

But today, many of Virginia’s elected leaders heap shame upon themselves and this commonwealth’s legacy by oppressing those very principles of openness and transparency for which those who strode the same halls before them risked their lives. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2014 3:33 AM

Since it was launched last year, The Telegraph’s Open Government Project has often highlighted the difficulty of getting access to government records, but this week, we want to acknowledge public servants in Nashua who went the extra mile to bring transparency to their work.

The story begins with a request for records about the city’s ongoing branding project. On Jan. 24, The Telegraph filed a Right to Know request with the city seeking copies of all communications between Nashua employees and North Star Destination Strategies, the Tennessee firm hired to develop Nashua’s new brand.

The branding project has evolved in unexpected ways since it was approved by aldermen in 2012, and the newspaper was hoping to learn more about how the process unfolded.

Under its contract, North Star expressly agreed that all documents it created for the city “shall be treated as public records” and “shall be available for inspection and copying by any person,” unless designated as confidential under state law. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2014 2:22 AM

Last time we checked in with Garrett Dunwoody, San Mateo County’s Open Data Manager, we talked about cybersecurity as it relates to open data for Cybersecurity Month. We also went over the definitions of open data and open government. Since then he has moved from the county’s Information Services Department and now works out of the County Managers Office on budget, performance, policy, and Open government initiatives. Today, we continue our conversation, but this time focusing on the why of open data and its relationship with open government.

Let’s get broad: Why open data?

Garrett: Open data segues into, and is the easiest tool for, open government. It’s honestly the first step because it’s tangible, useful, and you can do things with it which have results. Open data initiates the move towards transparency which is the ultimate goal of open government.

Providing people with raw and unfettered data shows not only what government is doing, but on what data is valuable in the decision making process. Releasing data also provides people access to data. Depending on the tools available within an agency’s data portal, tools can be built into the portal that allows for analysis and visualization of the data. This process gives constituents the opportunity to turn data into information. As we’ve seen over the last few years, people are doing pretty great things with data that used to just sit around on government hard drives. Continue>>>
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