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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November 17, 2014 2:20 PM

The Florida Supreme Court stood unanimously on the side of good government Thursday when it ruled that the public has a right to see documents a Republican consultant created in connection with the Legislature's once-a-decade redistricting process. Now, barring an ill-advised rehearing request by the document owner, Floridians will be able to judge for themselves what role outsiders played in the controversial 2012 redistricting process. The court has reaffirmed its commitment and the state Constitution's requirement to open government.

Thursday's order came months after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled — based on some documents that were sealed by an emergency order of the state Supreme Court — that two congressional districts drawn in 2012 violated requirements in the state Constitution that districts be drawn without regard to protecting incumbents or political parties. State lawmakers met this summer in special sessions to draw a new map that was used in last week's election. Now the Supreme Court has reviewed the sealed documents and ordered them opened. They belong to Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter and his firm, Data Targeting Inc., and were found by Lewis to provide strong circumstantial evidence that he and other consultants had engaged in "a parallel redistricting process" in an effort to "subvert the political process."

Bainter initially argued the 538 pages of documents contained trade secrets central to his business. Then, as the trial was under way, he argued that the plaintiff's subpoena for the documents violated his First Amendment rights. On Thursday, the justices' rejected both claims and took particular umbrage at the late filing of the First Amendment objection, suggesting it was simply a trial tactic aimed at obfuscating the "truth-finding function of our justice system." Continue>>>
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November 5, 2014 11:51 AM

If Amsterdam, N.Y. Mayor Ann Thane spent as much time addressing reality as she does dodging it — or
giving it a fresh coat of white wash — she might have more time to fix what’s broken here on the home front.

The polarizing leader of this fair city is nearing the final year of her second term in office and as each day passes finds more ways to point the finger at everyone else, bemoaning their flaws and inabilities, instead of taking a good hard look at where the buck truly stops.

In her latest inexplicable denial of accountability, the mayor has spent the better part of three months rebuffing requests from this newspaper — via the Freedom of Information Act —for information pertaining to the financial status of the city of Amsterdam. This, from the same person who scheduled a forum on open government featuring the state’s go-to authority on thesubject, Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:04 PM

I learned many things last Tuesday. A young gentleman proudly told me of a youth-led initiative in Cameroon supporting government reforms by leading regulatory trainings for public healthcare providers. A young woman shared with me her desire to learn how to analyze the budget data her government recently made available. And another gentleman currently working at an NGO in India shared with me how social media has revolutionized the way local governments are responding and enhancing their service delivery.

These are all stories from last week's World Bank Group's Youth Summit 2014: The Need for Open and Responsive Governments. Over 300 young leaders from government, academia, civil society and the international community convened to hear speakers, engage with peers and learn new tools to support their work in promoting open governments. Hundreds more participated through our livestream broadcast and in World Bank offices from Tbilisi, Georgia to San Salvador, El Salvador.

I had the distinct pleasure to chair this year's conference and moderate the first session with Erion Veliaj, minister of social welfare and youth in Albania. He energized the audience by sharing part of his story, the motivations and challenges of entering Albanian politics, and how it's in the best interest of governments to be more transparent as it's the people who hold the voting power. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:38 PM

Meet Ben Balter. He's a Government Evangelist at GitHub, where he leads the efforts to encourage adoption of open source philosophies, making all levels of government better, one repository at a time.

Ben was a member of the inaugural class of Presidential Innovation Fellows and also served as a Fellow in the Office of the US Chief Information Officer, helping to draft the Presidentís Digital Strategy and Open Data Policy. As both an attorney and a developer, he's probably spent more time pondering and writing about Federal IT Procurement rules than most people would agree is healthy.

Ben will be talking about Software Development as a Civic Service at next week's All Things Open conference, and he answered a few questions for us about what the US government is doing right (and wrong) in terms of open technologies and policies. Continue>>>
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October 13, 2014 1:49 PM

The League of Women Voters of Calvert County released a nearly 80-page report on its findings regarding the transparency of the Calvert County government, using three 'case studies' in the group's analysis: the expansion of the Dominion Cove Point facility in Lusby, development surrounding the former Calvert Middle School property and the preparation of the annual county budget and Capital Improvement Plan.

The report lists areas of improvement the county can make for public participation and transparency. Roberta Safer, the league's first vice president and editor of the study, said the purpose of the report is not to take a stance on issues but, rather, to encourage dialogues with the county government about transparency.

ìWhat we want is a dialogue with the commissioners,î Safer said in an interview Wednesday. ìÖ We have no beef with anybody or anything.' The study is the result of months of work by the 'eague's observer corps and other members and was given to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners at its regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 7. The league was expected to hold a town hall meeting on the study on Thursday, Oct. 9, after time of press. Continue>>>
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October 13, 2014 1:43 PM

Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday proposed creating a Government Accountability Portal to make state government more open, transparent and accountable to Iowa citizens. Branstad said the new entity would be a 'one-stop shop' housed within the Iowa Public Information Board for Iowans to register comments, concerns, questions or suggestions regarding state government and its operations.

The new approach would require a response to an 'input' from Iowa citizens within 24 hours and would require acknowledgment from the appropriate state agency within 48 hours, so that the citizen knows with whom the discussion will continue, according to a news release from the Branstad-Reynolds campaign.

Branstad said he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have made transparency a hallmark of their administration, beginning with the resumption of weekly news conference to directly respond to questions from the media and naming former Iowa Newspaper Association executive Bill Monroe as the state's first transparency adviser to the governor. 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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September 23, 2014 8:51 AM

The more transparent and open governments can be, the better for everyone. To most people, transparency has to do with disclosure. Providing information about an issue, event, project, policy, program etc. and then providing a way for people to find and view that information.

Typically, that would suffice. However, when the term is applied in our system of government that particular definition does not go far enough to meet the publicís (expected) definition of transparency. In a democratic government, transparency should be defined as disclosure and discussion.

Transparency means helping the public understand how and why decisions that influence them are made. It means being accountable to the taxpayer. It's much easier to issue edicts with little or no explanation, give canned responses (we appreciate your input..), and clock out at the end of the day without a care because you have the power and no one is allowed to question you. Continue>>>
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September 15, 2014 7:21 PM

Veteran journalist Donnis Baggett, former publisher and editor of The Eagle, was honored Friday by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas for his work in fighting for open government and the First Amendment.

Baggett, who is executive vice president of the Texas Press Association, leads the group's governmental affairs program, which focuses on protecting open records, open meetings and public notice at all levels of government.

"When you wrap yourself in the First Amendment for four decades, it's always front of mind, and it's easy to assume that it's front of mind for everybody else, but it isn't. I'm still surprised that we have to constantly explain how important it is -- especially to some of those in the pink building who are too willing to shrug it off in the name of efficiency or privacy or security," Baggett told foundation members, referring to state legislators. Continue>>>
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September 5, 2014 8:50 AM

NEWS RELEASE

September 5, 2014
For immediate release
Contact: Hyde Post, President, NFOIC
hyde.post@gmail.com· 404.216.2661 or 573.882.4856

State Open Government Activist is 2014 FOI Hall of Famer

      Well known for his public advocacy and a frequent panelist and speaker throughout New Jersey, John Paff this year becomes the 15th inductee into the State Open Government Freedom of Information Hall of Fame.Known as the “Heroes of the Fifty States,” the joint initiative of the National Freedom of Information Coalition(NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalistsrecognizes the recipient’s“long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.”  Formal induction takes place on October 24 at the 2014 NFOIC Freedom of Information Summitin St. Petersburg, Florida.

       Paff has been dubbed “New Jersey’s busiest open government activist” by reporter Colleen O’Dea, who featured him this February in her New Jersey Spotlight article “Profile: The Man Who Makes Sure Government Works – Right Out in the Open.”

       Paff’s interest in government transparency began in 2002 shortly after the New Jersey Open Public Records Act was passed. Since then, he has taken a lead role in the work of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project and has served as Project Chairman since 2003.  He has also served for the past five years on the board of trustees for the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, a non-profit organization devoted to improving compliance with the state’s Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. Paff is also is a gifted writer and blogs about noteworthy issues at NJ Open Government Notes.

      Having earned a reputation as a government watchdog, Paff typically juggles five public records requests at any one time. He has filed and won numerous lawsuits against non-compliant public agencies and, in doing so, has made a significant contribution to the body of case law giving teeth to the statutes. “The award judges had a wealth of riches this year in choosing its ‘hero,’ but John Paff stood above the crowd,” said Sarah Nordgren, Director of Content Development for the Associated Pressand one of the NFOIC judges who reviewed the nominees. “John is tireless not only in his support of open government, but also in imparting the deep knowledge he has to others, so that they, too, can work to ensure transparency.”

      NFOIC’s president, Hyde Post said “John joins a distinguish group of 14 deserving men and women: outstanding individuals who selflessly volunteer their time to ensure open, transparent government, and freedom of information in their states and for their communities.”

       The FOI Summit, which also serves as the national coalition’s annual conference, brings together state and regional FOI coalitions and advocates of open government.  Tom Blanton, Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, is this year’s keynote speaker. Visit NFOIC onlineor call NOW to register for this year’s FOIA Summit. Travel scholarships are available to early registrants.

July 14, 2014 10:22 AM

President Barack Obama promised to create “a new era of openness” on the first day of his first term. It’s a sad irony that his administration has continued the 20-year trend of being less and less open to journalists. It has prosecuted leaks and leakers, threatened journalists with jail, denied credentials, and established policies that restrict federal officials from talking to reporters.

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), which I belong to, sent the president a letter July 8. It said, “You recently expressed concern that frustration in the country is breeding cynicism about democratic government. You need look no further than your own administration for a major source of that frustration – politically driven suppression of news and information about federal agencies. We call on you to take a stand to stop the spin and let the sunshine in.”

Even today the White House website trumpets the beauty of openness. It says, “President Obama is committed to making this the most open and participatory administration in history. That begins with taking your questions and comments, inviting you to join online events with White House officials, and giving you a way to engage with your government on the issues that matter the most.” Continue>>>
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July 1, 2014 1:05 PM

In an effort to be more transparent and participatory, governments are making more data publicly available in machine-readable formats and under open licenses, but such noble aims are not immune to privacy issues, says a paper published June 18 in Future Internet, a Switzerland-based scholarly journal.

The open government movement faces several privacy challenges, including responsibly handling "public" personal information, distinguishing between public and private-sector actors, and the potential for monitoring and profiling of citizens through big data, writes Teresa Scassa, the report's author and a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

Governments handle large volumes of personal information and in some cases the principles of open government have required its disclosure, creating so-called public personal information, says Scassa. Continue>>>
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