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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September 3, 2014 9:22 PM

Every so often, those people charged with conducting the public’s business should read the preamble to state of Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act. Other citizens ought to read it, too. It states: “The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions thereof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

We mention this because at least two members of the Olympian Planning Commission – Carole Richmond and Jerry Parker -- don’t seem to understand the meaning of public service. The nonprofit Washington Coalition for Open Government recently presented its Key Award to planning commission member Judy Bardin for calling attention to a series of secret meetings between other commissioners and developers. But Richmond and Parker criticized WCOG and the award. Continue>>>
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August 4, 2014 9:08 AM

Four Fort Smith city directors were dismissed from a lawsuit alleging violations of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act according to a Thursday (July 31) court filing.

City Directors George Catsavis, Keith Lau, Mike Lorenz and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle were all released from the lawsuit that alleges the FOIA violation after Lorenz had called City Clerk Sherri Gard requesting two items be removed from meeting agendas. Gard then contacted all members of the Board to determine if there was adequate support to remove the items. A city ordinance passed in the 1970s allows removal of items from a meeting agenda if four directors notify the city clerk of their desire to have the item removed.

Attorney Joey McCutchen, representing Fort Smith resident Jack Swink, said Saturday (Aug. 2) that the removal of the four city directors was due to the elected officials' lack of understanding of the Arkansas FOIA law prior to the polling having been conducted by Gard. Continue>>>
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August 1, 2014 7:23 AM

With the gridlock in Washington, and the latest scandal involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged meddling in the work of the commission he created to help root out corruption in Albany, it’s too easy to think that “government” — and government shenanigans — are something far away, either up the Hudson or down I-95.

But government is as near as your local school board, zoning board or village board, the Town of Hempstead council or the County Legislature. Indeed, the decisions made by your elected representatives at the school district, village, town and county levels often have way more to do with your everyday lives, and pocketbooks, than the laws passed in either capital.

And those local boards and councils can sometimes be as guilty of improper behavior as public officials at higher levels. Just because local trustees are our neighbors doesn’t make them less human, more perfect or less tempted to sin than the rest of us. The fact that they have less experience with the process and rules for getting things done than state and federal officials actually explains how it’s even easier for our local boards to get into trouble. Continue>>>
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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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