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 22, 2014 7:07 AM

A New Jersey judge ruled Monday that Gov. Chris Christie's administration must honor an activist's public records requests for requests filed by others.

The decision from Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson finds fault with the state's recent strategy of denying such requests on the grounds that people who ask for government records have a privacy right. A state government lawyer said that people can use government records requests to explore lawsuits or dig up dirt on political opponents — things that Jacobson said need not be confidential.

"I can't see any expectation of privacy, whether you're attorney or not, or a newspaper person who's trying to get a scoop or not," Jacobson said in her ruling from the bench Tuesday before a nearly empty courtroom. Continue>>>
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May 30, 2014 7:21 AM

Freedom of Information requests submitted April 15 to the towns of Ridgeway and Shelby (NY) for public records related to the proposed dissolution of the Village of Medina have yet to be fulfilled even though the deadline to do so has elapsed.

The records request was filed by the Medina Journal-Register, which publishes its last edition on Friday. Both towns acknowledged receiving the detailed request and said they would strive to respond in a timely manner.

The state FOI law requires producing public records within 20 business days – unless otherwise specified — upon acknowledging receipt of a request. That would make last Friday the approximate deadline for responding. Yet the request has not nearly been met. A call to both town offices last week indicated there were two billing invoices ready for pickup and nothing else. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2014 9:51 PM

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature had just sealed a $96.3 billion state budget last year when an outcry erupted over a provision that allowed local governments to deny requests for public documents because the state wouldn't reimburse them.

They restored funding and now support a ballot measure that aims to make sure the episode is never repeated. Proposition 42 would amend the state constitution to require cities, counties, school districts and other local agencies to comply with state laws to make documents available and open their meetings to the public. They also would be required to cover the costs for doing so.

The June 3 ballot measure is backed by unusual bedfellows, including the state Democratic and Republican parties, taxpayer advocates and labor unions. The state Assembly voted 78-0 and Senate voted 37-0 to qualify it for a statewide vote. Continue>>>
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April 11, 2014 10:37 AM

The state Supreme Court has ruled that government agencies can charge an hourly fee for locating public documents requested under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The court ruled 4-1 in a decision released Thursday.

The justices overturned a Kanawha County circuit judge’s ruling that said the city of Nitro didn’t have the authority to enact an ordinance to establish an hourly search fee for documents. The circuit judge had concluded the city could only charge for the cost of copying the documents, but the Supreme Court disagreed.

The justices said the Legislature has previously approved rules that allow various state agencies to charge search fees in FOIA document requests. Continue>>>
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December 31, 2013 1:01 AM

 From The Bulletin: Four years ago, the Attorney General’s right-hand man on all issues dealing with government transparency created a comprehensive list of exemptions to the state’s public records laws.

He found more than 400.

“I think, frankly, the volume … is surprising,” said Michael Kron, who still works at the state’s department of justice, but was working under Democratic Attorney General John Kroger at the time. Two years after Kron compiled the list, in 2011, Kroger launched an unsuccessful campaign to improve government transparency.

Continue>>

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August 27, 2013 10:25 AM

From News-Gazette.com:  City Attorney Fred Stavins said that, even if they are public records, deleted text messages are impossible to recover, and the city's legal department provided The News-Gazette with its research to prove it.

In December 2012, city officials called around to various cellphone providers to determine how long those records are retained in the cell company's files.

[. . .]

AT&T: No records are kept of customers' text messages — that data can only be accessed on a customer's phone.

Continue . . .

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August 13, 2013 9:30 AM

From Des Moines Register:  The Iowa Department of Public Safety now says it will not charge The Des Moines Register the overtime rate for an employee to gather data in response to a public records request.

The decision came a day after the newspaper filed three complaints with the Iowa Public Information Board over record costs and access issues involving the departments of Public Safety and Human Services.

Public Safety officials had previously said they were told by the Iowa attorney general’s office to bill the employee time to gather and prepare the data requested by the newspaper at an overtime rate of approximately $59 an hour.

Get the rest here.

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August 6, 2013 9:29 AM

From The Daily Progress:  A shift to electronic filing for financial disclosure forms for 25,000 state workers and elected officials means it could cost the public dramatically more to get the records.

Searching 2008 to 2011 disclosure records for 525 Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control employees, for example, cost The Daily Progress nothing. The price tag for accessing the same documents for 2012 would have been $1,200, according to state officials.

Last year’s shift to electronic filing leaves it to Patrick Mayfield, the sole employee and director of the state's Conflict of Interest Office, to download the forms one-by-one from a state server and then print them individually.

[...]

"The state's decision on how to manage their records should not create a cost passed on to consumers," said Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. "Those documents exist so that people can see them."

See the rest here.

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August 2, 2013 11:23 AM

From the Blog of Legal Times:  Lawyers for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the digital library JSTOR continue to press their fight to intervene in a public records lawsuit to assert control over the scope of information the government is planning to release about the late Aaron Swartz.

In the dispute in Washington federal district court, MIT and JSTOR argue they should have some say over the ability to keep certain details secret before the government provides any information to the public. Wired investigative reporter Kevin Poulsen sued the Department of Homeland Security in April under the Freedom of Information Act. The suit now tests just how big a voice a third party can have in a public records case.

Get the rest here ... 

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July 31, 2013 12:11 PM

From Houston Chronicle:  Kentucky child safety officials have testified that their main reason for redacting information in files of children who have been severely abused or neglected is to protect the privacy of families involved.

Department of Community Based Services Teresa James said protecting the privacy of the families helps them to heal and rebuild.

"If I release records, it makes me culpable in the impact it has on families," James said. "I don't believe it is the agency's job to revictimize."

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader report the testimony came Monday during a hearing in Frankfort over whether the Cabinet for Health and Family Services is following the correct procedure for redacting information in the files that a judge has ordered turned over to the newspapers.

Lawyers for the newspapers argue that the agency is blacking out more information than the judge approved.

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July 30, 2013 9:54 AM

From The Republic:  The University of Missouri has prevailed in a public records lawsuit filed by an education advocacy group that sought access to professors' copies of course outlines.

A Boone County Circuit Court judge recently rejected the National Council on Teacher Quality's efforts to compel release of copies of course syllabuses under the state's open records laws. University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe disclosed the favorable ruling in an email to university employees last week.

The council sought the records as part of its nationwide effort to monitor what aspiring teachers learn in college. The university contended that the documents are intellectual property legally protected under federal copyright law.

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March 25, 2013 10:48 AM

Opinion from the Logan Banner:

When West Virginia House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, spoke at the West Virginia Press Association’s annual legislative breakfast last week he said West Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act law needed to be more open to allow citizens and journalists even more access to documents from public bodies.

Being true to his word, Armstead introduced a bill meant to make internal letters and memos from government bodies available to members of the public, unless the documents fall under another exemption of the state’s Freedom of Information Act law.

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Then, on Tuesday, House Bill 2911 was introduced. ... 

It seeks an exemption to the Freedom of Information Act for all records pertaining to the issuance, renewal, expiration, suspension or revocation of a license to carry a concealed weapon. It carries the following note: “The purpose of this bill is to exempt records of concealed weapon license applications and issuance from disclosure under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act.”

 

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