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 4, 2015 12:51 PM

Gov. Susana Martinez has agreed to release monthly reports that detail the spending of security officers who travel with her, part of an agreement reached with The Associated Press in a public records case.

Under the settlement, the governor's attorneys agreed that the information in the procurement card reports relates to public business and falls under New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act.

The news organization sued the governor and administration agencies in 2013 for refusing to release records about her work and travel schedules, cellphone calls, and the expenses of her security detail. The parties filed papers Tuesday to dismiss the original lawsuit. continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:24 PM

The Beecher School District paid nearly $250,000 to avoid two lawsuits over alleged sexual misconduct by a former public school administrator.

But no lawsuit was ever filed, so taxpayers did not have easy access to this information because of a state law that allows public bodies to enter into non-disclosure clauses that bar either side from discussing specifics of a case.

The result is a Catch-22 that requires taxpayers to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a document they may not even know exists. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:16 PM

When Congress last updated federal open government laws in 2007, it created a new ombudsman intended to serve as an honest broker between Freedom of Information Act requestors and agencies. But unlike most other ombudsmen, this one works for one of the parties in the disputes it's supposed to mediate. Pending legislation would change that by making the Office of Government Information services (OGIS) truly independent from the executive branch.

The proposed change is part of a large package of updated FOIA reforms Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced earlier this month. The lawmakers' goal is to revive and update legislation that passed both houses of Congress last year but finally died in December because the chambers couldn't work out their differences.

This year's version, similar to the previous one, would create a "presumption of openness," placing the burden on agencies to prove that FOIA requests should be denied. Among its other provisions, the bill also would raise the profile of OGIS, which already is in charge of mediating FOIA disputes and making recommendations to Congress to improve the FOIA process. But as of now, OGIS is housed within the National Archives and Records Administration, and like the rest of the executive branch, ultimately reports to the White House. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:05 PM

Some lawmakers in Springfield are again trying to make government less transparent.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, a Republican from Rockford, has filed House Bill 261. If passed, it will end the publication of all public notices in newspapers in favor of government websites. The legislation states that when a law, court order, or contract requires a governmental unit to provide notice by publication in a newspaper, that governmental unit may publish the notice on an official government website instead of in a newspaper.

You might recall a similar assault of transparency occurred in 2011, when a nearly identical bill was filed. It was unsuccessful. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2015 1:22 AM

Honesty, decency and forthrightness are among the values that define South Dakotans. Another core value is a fundamental belief in the public’s right to know about their government. South Dakotans believe the public’s business should be conducted in public view.

That principle in government transparency is embedded in South Dakota’s open meetings laws, which date back more than a half century and direct state and local government boards on how they should conduct business in public.

A principle guiding our open meetings laws is that when at least a quorum of members of a government board is discussing official business, the state open meetings laws should be followed. In other words, among other things, an agenda of the meeting should be provided in advance of the meeting and the public should have the opportunity to witness the meeting. That principle applies whether the government board is meeting in person or by teleconference or video-conference. Continue>>>
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February 27, 2015 12:21 PM

Many people are aware of the Freedom of Information Act, known by its acronym, FOIA. It’s the kind of thing that might be described as “government trade secrets, inside out.”

In essence, it means that you can get “private” information from the government by filing a request. Think the government has a file on you? Well, you can file and they will tell you if they do or don’t, or that “they don’t want to confirm or deny” the existence of such a file.

FOIA files can be very fascinating to read, and while sensitive information may be redacted, there’s always a certain excitement to reading things that are officially out of the public’s reach. (Think about any email sent to or by a government employee.) Continue>>>
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February 27, 2015 12:16 PM

Until his death last week, it had been a while since Cass Ballenger’s name appeared in Gazette headlines.

The ultimate straight-talking politician, Ballenger spent a stretch representing Gaston County in Washington and in that time made plenty of news. He had a way of saying what he thought that left listeners with no doubt about what he meant.

Ballenger lived in Hickory but he turned up regularly in Gaston County when he came home from D.C., often dropping by the newspaper office wearing his signature crumpled suit. He took it in stride when a Gazette writer once described him as dressed less like powerful lawmaker and more like Colombo, the detective from the hit TV series of the day. Continue>>>
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February 26, 2015 1:32 PM

Alabamians who care about transparency in government should be pleased to see – and to support – legislation that will repair the damage done to the public good by three deeply disturbing decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court. A prefiled bill by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, responsibly addresses the issues in those open government decisions.

In 2012, the court upheld the fundamentally dishonest practice of so-called "serial meetings," smaller gatherings of government bodies in which there is never a quorum present, but in which important matters that will come before the full body are discussed. It's a sneaky way around the Open Meetings Act, but the court held that is not unlawful.

Ward's bill prohibits serial meetings. That alone is enough to warrant supporting it, but the bill goes further in strengthening the right of Alabamians to know what their government is doing. Continue>>>

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February 25, 2015 12:54 AM

The Florida First Amendment Foundation is tracking more than 80 bills in the Florida Legislature, some of which it says would hide important government records from public view.

The independent watchdog group released its list of bills Monday. It labelled some of the bills neutral in their effect on government openness but said it would oppose others. Those include a bill by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, to allow identities of applicants for top state university offices to remain anonymous.

The foundation said it's undecided on a bill by Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, to keep secret videos shot by police body cameras in private homes, schools and health care facilities. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 12:41 AM

With the upcoming Mayoral and Aldermanic elections for the City of Chicago, the city has apparently decided to keep requested public records a secret. The records requested are such that they could point to disqualification for office if revealed.

On January 31, 2015, I requested records relating to nearly every elected official in the City of Chicago government. The records I was seeking pertain to debts owed to the city, which included the time-frame for election petition filing. (read it below)

On February 2, 2015, I received an email extending the deadline by an additional five working days, and it stated the records would be provided on or before February 18, 2015. Continue>>>
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February 24, 2015 11:38 AM

The cause of open government in Connecticut has taken extraordinarily hard knocks of late, undermining this state's once-sterling reputation nationally for valuing openness and promoting the free flow of information. One of the hardest was a disappointing state Supreme Court ruling last year that severely limits the amount of information that local police departments and the state police are required to disclose about an arrest while prosecution is pending.

House Bill 6750 would do a public service in reversing that ruling. It would restore the proper balance between government transparency and privacy and fair-trial interests.

The legislature passed the Freedom of Information Act 40 years ago. Its preamble said, "The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know." Continue>>>
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February 24, 2015 11:22 AM

Gov. Larry Hogan may have campaigned on a pledge to bring more transparency to government in Annapolis, but his lawyer has urged agency heads and staff to stamp a claim of "executive privilege" — the civilian equivalent of "top secret" — on all their internal correspondence, emails and documents.

Within two weeks of taking office, an email from Robert F. Scholz, the governor's chief legal counsel, went out to top officials or their aides in a variety of departments, agencies and offices advising them to post a triple-barreled, capitalized claim of secrecy on all written communications with the governor or his staff.

It should say, he wrote, "CONFIDENTIAL, FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY – PROTECTED BY EXECUTIVE PRIVILEGE." Continue>>>
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