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/.
Sunshine Sunday kicks off Sunshine Week in the Sunshine State. That should produce enough glare to require sunglasses as politicians boast about their open meetings, accessible records and public debates. Then why so many dark clouds on the horizon?
The concept of government in the sunshine is straightforward. Every public agency has to open nearly all of its meetings, allow relevant documents to be examined and copied, and let citizens hear the debate that informs important decisions, especially when tax dollars are at stake.
And there is a solid rationale for such laws. Experience teaches that people in power behave better when we keep an eye on them. Continue>>>
Almost seven weeks into the legislative session, no fewer than 25 bills have been introduced that would affect open meetings, open records or public notice advertising in Iowa.
The bill that has received the most attention is one being fast-tracked that would seal data on Iowa's concealed weapons permit holders. But other bills are lurking in the wings that also would erode openness in our state's government.
House study bill 162 would allow anyone to file a written request to prohibit their name, address and telephone number from being accessed on county Internet sites.
Senate file 385 would expand confidentiality of court records, allowing for the expungement of not-guilty verdicts and dismissed criminal charges.
Senate file 292 would make confidential certain juvenile court records.
House study bill 167 would seal records of applications to erect cell phone towers and infrastructure. Continue>>>
Of the 28 official Danville boards and commissions listed on the city’s website, about half of them hold meetings during work-day hours — while open to the public, most people with daytime jobs would find them difficult to attend.
Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said while her organization does not have a “best practices” stance on what time government bodies should hold their meetings at the most convenient times possible for the largest number of people.
“In today’s working world, [working] 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is not the norm, as it was 25 years ago,” Rhyne said, noting that many companies offer flex time and other schedule options to its employees. “But you do want to schedule meetings when most people could attend them.” Continue>>>
Caroline County's school board members went into a closed session last week to discuss, among other matters, their own performance. It's probably not a bad idea to evaluate themselves occasionally, but they shouldn't keep it secret from county residents.
In fact, using a closed meeting under the personnel exemption to talk about themselves is not permitted under state law. Virginia's Freedom of Information Act permits closed meetings to discuss ìspecific' people they have the authority to hire, fire, discipline or evaluate.
The exemption doesn't include one another. There are at least two legal opinions-one from the attorney general, another from the state's Freedom of Information Advisory Council-that explain why such discussions can't be held in closed sessions. Continue>>>
The Port of Tacoma could pay up to $50,000 to defend its commission members against a lawsuit alleging they violated the state's Open Meetings Act by holding confidential meetings with the Port of Seattle commissioners over a planned operations alliance.
The commission unanimously approved last week an authorization for the port to pay legal fees of up to $50,000 to defend commission members in a lawsuit brought by Olympia open government advocate Arthur West. Any costs beyond $50,000 will be paid by the port's legal liability insurance carrier.
That same authorization also would allow the port to pay any fines or judgments against individual commissioners if the courts decide those confidential meetings violated the Open Meetings Act. State law allows governments to pay legal defense costs and judgments in cases brought against their governing officials if those officials acted in good faith as part of their official duties. Continue>>>
Open-meetings laws are effective only if they actually compel public entities to conduct public business in public. That clearly is the intent, and the Olentangy school board appears to have violated the intent of the law by discussing what should have been public matters through private emails.
The Ohio Supreme Court is being asked to take up an appeal of a case filed by an Olentangy school board member, Adam White, against other members who corresponded with each other via email before taking an official action. White filed suit last year in Delaware County Common Pleas Court, which ruled that four other school board members did not violate open-meetings laws in exchanging the emails.
The Dispatch would welcome the Supreme Court taking the case and affirming the need for boards to adhere to what often are referred to as 'sunshine' laws. Other groups supporting White's appeal include the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, Common Cause Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio, all which joined in a 'friend of the court' brief backing White. Continue>>>
Since 2010, the North Dakota University System has violated state open records and open meetings laws 17 times, according to records from the North Dakota Attorney General's office. Now Interim Chancellor Larry Skogen is crying foul on some of those requests, saying they're politically motivated.
ìOpen records law is certainly designed to ensure transparent government,î Skogen told an Oct. 3 meeting of the State Board of Higher Education. ìWe all agree on the need for that, but what has happened is these laws are being used for some politically motivated individuals. Now our communications have become a fishing pond in which these individuals cast wide nets in the hope of finding something to use against political opponents or for political purposes.î
But Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is tasked with enforcing the state's open records laws, said the motivation for open records requests doesn't matter. Continue>>>
The three Democratic Lucas County commissioners skated on the edge of Ohio's open-meetings law recently when they prearranged and attended a last-minute meeting with Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins.
Commissioners Carol Contrada, Pete Gerken, and Tina Skeldon Wozniak, along with Lucas County Administrator Laura Lloyd-Jenkins, asked to see Mayor Collins after receiving a letter from him about his decision to order police to charge most criminals under state laws rather than city ordinances. The move could save the city $4 million to $9 million but leave the county short that money.
The four took the elevator from the county's eighth-floor office in One Government Center to the mayor's 22nd-floor suite. Mrs. Contrada, president of the commissioners, said it was not a public meeting and not a violation of the law because the three did not deliberate. Continue>>>
Too many public entities are violating Missouriís open-government laws by meeting in closed sessions without giving a good reason or by discussing things behind closed doors that they shouldnít be, the state auditor said Tuesday.
Auditor Tom Schweich said about 15 percent of the nearly 300 audits he conducted over the previous two years found some sort of violation of Missouri's open-meetings-and-records laws. Thatís an improvement from the 19 percent problem rate for Sunshine law compliance during audits conducted in 2010 and 2011, he said.
'Maybe things are getting a little better,' Schweich said. But he added: 'Thatís not to say I'm happy with the fact that so many entities are still not complying.' Continue>>>