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 2, 2014 2:07 PM

Serving as a continuation from the most recent Belding City Council meeting on March 18, residents again voiced their concerns and disappointment Tuesday evening with respect to members of the council and City Manager Meg Mullendore.

The meeting followed a similar theme of two weeks ago, fueled by disgruntled citizens who again addressed their concerns during the meeting’s public comment period, which lasted nearly 35 minutes.

Council members listened as residents raised concerns involving alleged actions of Mullendore throughout the past year and prior to her time in Belding.

A three-page letter titled “City Manager Concerns” written by Belding resident Katherine Henry was handed to each council member, listing numerous reasons why she believes Mullendore should be removed. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2014 1:11 AM

Locally elected officials are expected to conduct public business in the open, and not behind closed doors. And any abuse of closed-door executive sessions represents a serious breach of trust between an elected official and those constituents he or she is charged with serving.

That’s why we are concerned by the recent actions of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. Not only is this board holding executive sessions every month, but the five elected board members are increasingly spending more and more time behind closed doors. This is unacceptable, and can not continue.

Such closed-door meetings should be the exception, and never the rule. But they are seemingly being held every month by the board of supervisors. The regular board meetings begin each month at 6 p.m. Normally — but not always — there is a good-sized crowd in attendance. However, after the meeting is convened, the board members then retire into a closed-door executive session leaving the crowd outside, and the press, waiting for public business to be conducted. This action is insulting to those citizens who attend the regular meetings expecting the business of the public to be conducted in the open. Continue>>>
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February 23, 2014 1:11 AM

A proposal that would allow governments to charge a fee for time-intensive public records requests would restrict access to information and undermine open government, a media attorney told lawmakers Thursday.

"Bottom line is public records in Arizona belong to the people. They don't belong to government officials, they don't belong to government bureaucrats and they don't belong to public bodies," said Chris Moeser, who represented Phoenix Newspapers Inc. and KPNX-TV before the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure.

But René G. Guillen Jr., legislative director for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said some municipalities are overwhelmed by the number of requests combined with the requirement under state law to fulfill them promptly. Continue>>>
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Arizona, open meetings
February 14, 2014 4:44 AM

“Closed-door interactions.” That’s what the American Political Science Association (APSA) has recommended as one way to tackle congressional inaction. An APSA task force suggests that less transparency in government has clear and actionable benefits which can bolster the ability of Congress to resolve difficult policy issues.

Less transparent government? When I came across this premise while researching a previous article on congressional negotiation, I was initially somewhat disturbed — shocked actually. Are they suggesting a return to political horse-trading in the smoke-filled backrooms of an era past? Continue>>>
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January 28, 2014 4:41 AM

Clinton city (IA) officials and former city officials involved in a lawsuit filed by a citizen’s group over closed meeting records are being advised they could be personally liable if there are any penalties or attorney’s fees levied in the case.

The communication was issued by the city’s acting legal counsel, John Frey. KROS News obtained a copy of the communication issued Jan. 20 from a person involved in the case. A judge earlier ruled the city violated the open records laws by not releasing the records of the closed meetings. A hearing on damages is scheduled for Thursday this week.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a local group known as Citizens for Open Government. The sessions involved an Emergency Medical Services billing lawsuit that resulted in a settlement of the city paying the federal government $4.5 million in the Medicare-Medicaid case. The case claimed the city over-billed the government agencies for ambulance services. Continue >>>
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January 23, 2014 10:49 AM

Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley will not reprise last year’s largely ineffective efforts to increase public access to government records.

South Dakota lawmakers shot down five of the eight open government bills Daugaard and Jackley presented with help from a summer work group last year, including what would have been the most significant reforms. This year, neither man has those failed bills on his legislative agenda.

“When legislation is brought that doesn’t make it, you need to make a judgment about what’s politically feasible,” said Tony Venhuizen, Daugaard’s senior adviser. Continue >>>

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January 14, 2014 9:58 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

Melissa MacGowan, Administrator

NATIONAL FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COALITION

101E Reynolds Journalism Institute

Columbia, MO 65211

(573) 882-4856 · macgowanm@missouri.edu

Supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation, the suit’s settlement

includes training from state’s Sunshine group

COLUMBIA, Mo. (January 14, 2014) – Using a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition(NFOIC), Cindy Ference, a tenant in a King County Housing Authority complex in Shoreline, WA took on the housing authority in a lawsuit last year alleging violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act.

Her successful 2013 lawsuit exposed a now-abolished practice of using a private non-profit board to conduct public Housing Authority business.  Ms. Ference and the Housing Authority settled the open-meeting claims last summer, initiating the first round of reforms, including earlier and more detailed notice of Housing Authority board meetings, posting agendas online, and posting adopted resolutions online in a searchable format. The new settlement resolves the remaining claims under the Public Records Act, and brings the case to a final conclusion.

In the final settlement, the Housing Authority, which serves more than 18,000 low-income, senior and disabled residents in the suburbs of Seattle, agreed to pay Ms. Ference $24,300, which is equivalent to the maximum $100 per day in penalties authorized by Washington’s Public Records Act, in addition to attorney fees.  Those payments were received last week.

Also, the settlement requires that senior staff members and public records officers of the King County Housing Authority receive training to ensure transparency in the future as part of comprehensive voluntary reforms. The Washington Coalition for Open Government(WCOG), a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, will provide training. “We hope this settlement will serve as a model for state and local agencies to partner with WCOG in ensuring open and accountable government,” said WCOG President Toby Nixon. 

Ference received financial support for her legal action from NFOIC, which administers the Knight FOI Fund. The open government litigation fund, which is intended to assist meritorious open government lawsuits, was begun in 2010 under a grant to NFOIC and the University of Missouri from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Hyde Post, president of NFOIC, said, “This is the kind of positive change that the Knight FOI Fund is designed to promote.”

The NFOIC is a nonpartisan national coalition of state and regional open government groups and advocates headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to foster government transparency at the state and local levels. The Knight FOI Fund was begun under a $2 million, three-year grant to NFOIC and the University from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight FOI Fund is set up to assist the pursuit of important open government cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions. For more information on the Knight FOI Fund, please visit: http://www.nfoic.org/knight-foi-fund

Since it began in January 2010, the Knight FOI Fund has assisted litigants with 35 grant awards in FOI or public access cases. While some are still being adjudicated, Knight Fund-supported cases have resulted in 21 favorable court orders or settlements that achieved more transparency or greater access.

August 15, 2013 12:34 PM

Perspective from TechPresident: It is hard for Westerners to realize just how much we take for granted about intellectual property, and in particular, how much the property owner’s perspective--be it a corporation, government or creative artist--is embedded in our view of the world as the natural order of things.

While sharing and copying technologies are disrupting some of the ways we understanding “content,” when you visit a non-Western country like India, the spectrum of choices become broader. There is less timidity wrestling with questions like: should poor farmers pay inflated prices for patented genetically-engineered seeds? How long should patents be given for life-saving medicines that cost more than many make in a year? Should Indian universities spend millions on academic journals and articles? In the United States or other rich countries we may weigh both sides of these questions--the rights of the owner vs. the moral rights of the user--but there’s no question people elsewhere, such as in India, weigh them different given the questions of life and death or of poverty and development.

Consequently, conversations about open knowledge outside the supposedly settled lands of the “rich” often stretch beyond permission-based “fair use” and “creative commons” approaches. There is a desire to explore potential moral rights to use “content” in addition to just property rights that may be granted under statutes.

Get the rest here.

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January 11, 2013 1:55 PM

From Kingsport Times-News:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The top Democrat in the state Senate is calling on Republicans to make the upper chamber of the General Assembly subject to open government laws, saying he wants to see more transparency in government.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said he's just trying to create more transparency in government, and "level the playing field for ideas, where they can be judged on merit, not politics."

"That's what the Open Meetings law does," he said. "By amending the rules, their deliberations will be subject to public scrutiny, as should be the standard in state government."

 

December 27, 2012 11:07 AM

From NFOIC:

COLUMBIA, Mo – Our work at the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) focuses primarily on citizen access, transparency and open government issues at the state and local level.

But we are frequently drawn by overlap and the interrelationship of concerns into national affairs and matters related to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Though less frequent, we also have occasion from time to time to delve into international transparency issues.

Last month, NFOIC executive director Ken Bunting had occasion to address a delegation of top editors and senior investigative journalists from the newly independent southeastern European nation of Kosovo, who were on a U.S. State Department-arranged tour.

And even more recently, Bunting corresponded with the leader of a counterpart freedom of information non-governmental organization in the Republic of Georgia.

The director of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), Giorgi Kldiashvili, had made a general inquiry about “laws that regulate openness of government meetings” and applicable exemptions and exceptions.

In this email response to Bunting’s southeastern European counterpart, civic-minded and engaged Americans may see little that is new. But perhaps, it will serve as a reminder about the derivation of some of our precious freedoms, and their importance.

See the complete email here: Email to FOI advocate highlights basics of access laws.



August 31, 2012 10:55 AM

From Reuters:

Delaware's push to expand the state's legal industry was dealt a blow on Thursday when a federal judge ruled its high-profile Court of Chancery judges could not preside over arbitration proceedings that are closed to the public.

 
The court's five judges were sued by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, a group that promotes government transparency, for holding what the group said amounted to "secret" hearings to settle large business disputes.
 
The federal judge hearing the case, Mary McLaughlin of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ruled that the arbitration cases amounted to nonjury trials and must be open to the public.
 
[...]
 
The ruling on Thursday seemed to surprise John Flaherty, the leader of the group that filed the lawsuit. "Oh my gosh, that's a great victory for the rule of law," he told Reuters.

Delaware Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC.--eds.

August 3, 2012 10:13 AM

A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week:

Protesters request public records on use of force at Burlington protest

Activists who say they were repeatedly shot with rubber pellets during a confrontation with police last Sunday at the Hilton Hotel have filed a public records request with the Burlington Police Department. ... Jonathan Leavitt, one of the organizers of protests coinciding with the 36th Annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, stood silently beside the lawyer for most of the press conference. In a prepared statement, however, Leavitt stated that he was “walking away with my hands up” when he was shot with rubber munitions that left 19 bruises.

Visit VTDigger.org for the rest.

South Dakota, New Mexico governments get more open

Open government is gaining ground in two states – South Dakota and New Mexico. South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard has announced the creation of a new open government task force in his state. In New Mexico a court has ruled that citizens should have access to contractors records.

Visit CivSource for the rest.

Appellate court: Florida electronic property records official even if erroneously erased

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida appellate court on Thursday said electronic property records are official once they are filed even if later erased by mistake. A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the foreclosure by First City Bank of Florida on a Walton County lot that had been sold to two different buyers by Bluewater Real Estate Investments LLC.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Attorney no-show puts West Virginia FOIA lawsuit in jeopardy

CHARLESTON - As a result of his attorney's failure to show for recent hearing, a Clay County man's Freedom of Information lawsuit is on the brink of being dismissed. Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles E. King, Jr. denied a motion by Michael Boggs to amend his suit against the Clay County Business Development Authority. The reason King denied the motion was due to the failure of Boggs' attorney, David R. Karr, Jr., to appear at the July 24 hearing to argue why.

Visit West Virginia Record for the rest.

First Amendment Foundation (Fl.) honors Republican state senator

State Sen. Mike Fasano has been selected for the Pete Weitzel/Friend of the First Amendment Foundation awarded annually in Florida to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the cause of open government. ... Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, said in a letter to Fasano that his selection for the award was based on his "commitment to ensuring that the people's interests were represented in the Florida Senate and that the legislative process remained open and accessible to its people."

Visit TCPalm.com for the rest.

DeKalb (Ill.) County Board contemplates transparency

SYCAMORE – A recent D-minus grade in transparency given to DeKalb County by the Illinois Policy Institute did not sit well with some County Board members and officials, and changes could be coming. ... The county had low scores in categories such as employee salary and benefit information and Freedom of Information Act standards. ... [T]he IPI said the site should list salary and benefits on an individual basis and have clearer information on how to contact FOIA officers.

Visit The Daily Chronicle for the rest.

Massachusetts Division of Open Government: Barnstable Town Council violated Open Meeting Law

Reactions to the state’s determination that the town council violated the open meeting law twice last year were as divided as the board from which they sprang. “There were some technical violations” is how council President Fred Chirigotis referred to the findings at the July 31 council/manager press conference.

Visit The Barnstable Patriot for the rest.

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