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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October 28, 2014 10:02 AM

Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office four years ago promising the most transparent administration in history, but journalists and advocacy groups say his office instead tightly controls requests for public records on anything controversial and routinely delays or denies their release.

For decades, responding to requests under New York's Freedom of Information Law was the responsibility of individual state agencies. Current and former state officials say that began to change a year into Cuomo's administration, and now such requests are often routed through the governor's legal counsel.

Travis Proulx, former director of communications for the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, said the shift was a reaction to an embarrassing story - a 2011 New York Times series on abuse of the disabled in state care that was based largely on public records. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:41 PM

The Indiana Supreme Court's ruling that causes of death are public records and must be available at county levels is a decision worth applauding. That we, as The Tribune's Editorial Board, favor the ruling probably comes as no surprise. As journalists, we vigorously defend the concept of transparency in government. But the unanimous ruling released recently, which reversed the lower courtsí decisions, is one that is in the best interests of all Indiana residents.

The lawsuit at the center of this decision was filed after the Vanderburgh County Health Department denied access to cause of death information in 2012, claiming a 2011 state law restricted such information to those who could prove they had a direct interest in it. But the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that death certificates filed with local health departments are in fact public record, covered under Indiana's Access to Public Records Act.

The high court acknowledged that such public disclosures could be painful for the family and friends of the deceased. It goes on to say that the General Assembly has weighed these competing interests and 'concluded that the public interest outweighs the private.' Continue>>>
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September 30, 2014 10:26 AM

Officials in Ferguson, Missouri, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees' salaries before they will agree to turn over files under public records laws about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Missouri's attorney general on Monday, after the AP first disclosed the practice, contacted Ferguson's city attorney to ask for more information regarding fees related to document requests, the attorney general's spokeswoman said.

The move to charge high fees discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. And it follows dozens of records requests to Ferguson under the state's Sunshine Law, which can offer an unvarnished look into government activity. Continue>>>
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September 3, 2014 9:26 PM

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed a lawsuit on Thursday against the town of Warren for allegedly violating the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA).

Joelle Sylvia Esq., an attorney with the law firm Kelly & Mancini, made an APRA request on March 11 to the town of Warren seeking various documents. The town initially extended the time to respond to the request, but it allegedly failed to provide a response and/or the documents that were requested.

“Failure to respond to a request within the timeframe dictated by APRA is simply not acceptable,” Kilmartin said. “Given the level of education and proactive outreach by my office, there is an expectation that public bodies will comply with our open government laws. As the arbiter and watchdog for open government, I will continue to hold public bodies accountable as the citizens expect and deserve.” Continue>>>
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August 6, 2014 6:25 AM

Tax Analysts recently requested, under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, “copies of all field audit manuals and audit training manuals.” The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration sent back a misguided response. Revenue Legal Counsel Joel DiPippa, who wrote the letter denying Tax Analysts’ request, said Arkansas law limits the inspection and copying of public records to “any citizen of the State of Arkansas.” Neither the reporter who requested the audit manuals nor Tax Analysts is an Arkansas citizen.

The denial is a reminder of a limitation in a few states’ public records acts. Several other states, including Alabama, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Tennessee, also impose a similar “citizen” limitation. Unfortunately for journalists and researchers, the right to impose such a limitation was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. In that case, McBurney v. Young, the Court upheld Virginia’s right to limit the application of its public records act to Virginia citizens.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for a unanimous Court, said, “This Court has repeatedly made clear that there is no constitutional right to obtain all the information provided by FOIA laws.” The opinion went on to conclude that Virginia’s law does not run afoul of the dormant commerce clause or the privileges and immunities clause. All in all a disappointing opinion that failed to take into account the importance of providing access to public records. Continue>>>
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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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