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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July 16, 2014 1:04 AM

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has sued two state agencies in R.I. Superior Court, asserting they violated open government regulations.

On Friday, Kilmartin filed separate complaints against the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation and the Rhode Island State Properties Committee. Kilmartin cites the DBR for a reckless violation of the Access to Public Records Act (APRA) when the agency failed to respond to a July 10, 2013, reporter’s request.

The Attorney General’s office said that in a previous finding, Scripps News v. Rhode Island Department of Business Regulations, the Attorney General’s office found the Department of Business Regulations violated the public records act when it failed to timely respond to the July 10, 2013 request. The act says a public body has 10 business days to respond to a documents request. Continue>>>
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June 9, 2014 6:57 AM

A state watchdog group says Philadelphia City Council willfully ignored Pennsylvania’s open-meetings law this past week by gathering behind closed doors — not once, but twice.

On Wednesday, a majority of City Council members met behind a locked door in the office of City Council president Darrell Clarke (top photo). Clarke emerged later and admitted they were discussing city business — specifically, how to come up with more taxpayer dollars for the school district. But Clarke insisted the session did not violate the state Sunshine Act because council members broke up into smaller groups in separate areas within his office.

Kim de Bourbon, executive director of the Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition, says even if Clarke’s shuttling tactic didn’t violate the letter of the Sunshine Act, it violated the spirit of the law. Continue>>>
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June 2, 2014 10:30 AM

As he signed a new open meetings bill into law, Gov. Peter Shumlin expressed "serious concern" about parts of it, including a do-over provision that allows government bodies a chance to fix violations without penalty.

Now some open government advocates are asking for a do-over on the entire law, and a key legislator says lawmakers will likely revisit some aspects of it next year.

Rep. Donna Sweaney, D-Windsor and chairwoman of the House Government Operations Committee, said she was surprised during committee hearings on that bill that she didn't hear much from the Vermont Press Association, a traditional key advocate in legislation relating to access to government records and meetings. Continue>>>
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open meetings, Vermont
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."

 

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