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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March 24, 2014 12:59 PM

The Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association and its leader, Robert Ambrogi, deserve our thanks for their fight to open more of our state and local government to public inspection ("Guest View: A ray of hope for the Public Records Law," March 18). Government works best when it's most transparent. I have been proud to have joined Bob and the MNPA, Common Cause, MASSPIRG and others in that fight. While we have won several important victories, there remains much to accomplish.

In 2009, the Legislature reformed the Open Meeting Law, adopting a proposal contained in legislation I had filed to centralize enforcement of that law with the attorney general. In that same year, I instituted the Capital Spending Transparency Project, as chairman of the Legislature's House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditure and State Assets, with the goal of making all state capital spending available online. In 2011, the Legislature created the state "Open Checkbook," a website that allows everyone with Internet access to see state expenditures. Each legislative session, my committee holds nearly a dozen public hearings where the heads of state executive offices and agencies and several of the largest state authorities, such as MassPort, detail their capital projects and plans for future capital spending.

While we've made progress, much work remains. I have filed several bills that would promote government transparency. As Bob noted, the Massachusetts Public Records Law needs updating in very basic ways: requiring that records that are already in electronic form be made available electronically when requested; making sure that fees charged reflect the actual cost of producing documents, not an inflated cost designed to discourage requests; and designating a person in each agency to be responsible for all public records requests. Continue>>>
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March 16, 2014 12:11 AM

As stated in the preamble to the Brown Act, our state’s open government law: “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.”

In the last few weeks, the city of San Diego has experienced two major failures in providing the public with open and transparent government.

First, the Balboa Park Celebration Inc. committee was given city tax dollars to put together a 2015 centennial celebration. It received $450,000 in 2011 and another $2.3 million in 2013 to stage the event, but there is nothing to celebrate. The committee has nothing to show for all the money spent and is closing its doors and leaving behind a big mess. Worse, when originally asked by the public and media to provide records, they argued they did not have to because they were a private organization. The arrogance of this response was not lost on the public, and litigation was threatened to gain access. The committee finally began providing some records, but only after the threat of litigation. Continue>>>
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March 9, 2014 3:44 AM

 It plans to increase the number of producers from the current 23 to as many as 35, as well as boost the number of plants each can grow, adding 300 seedlings to the 150 plants now allowed.

That growth on the supply side may well be necessary, because there has certainly been growth on the demand side: There are 10,621 patients enrolled in the program, up more than 1,500 from early last year.

A recent DOH-commissioned survey had patients saying they were being turned away by providers with empty shelves and forced to buy the drug illegally from street dealers, which shouldn’t happen in a government-sanctioned program. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2014 2:22 AM

Chris Horner is deeply serious about his role as a climate-truth watchdog, but his sense of humor about his detractors is deliciously dark.

Take the story that broke just after New Year's of a Russian ship stranded in Antarctic ice, an incident seized by proponents as a certain sign that global warming was for real as polar sea ice continues to morph and melt.

The Chinese icebreaker sent in to rescue the trapped ship and its 73 passengers ended up getting caught in the ice, too, prompting one of the boat's scientific researchers to quip that his global warming-proving team was "stuck in our own experiment." Continue>>>
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February 25, 2014 1:11 AM

http://www.newjerseynewsroom.com/economy/transparency-in-nj-government-legislation-aimed-at-giving-taxpayers-a-website-to-track-state-financesThe “Transparency in Government Act,” sponsored by Assembly Republican Alison Littell McHose, cleared the Budget Committee on Monday.

McHose’s legislation, A-103, requires the creation of a State public finance website providing easy public access to data and details about State revenues, expenditures and total bonded indebtedness.

“This is an important step for our taxpayers. The website will lift the curtain, giving the public a clear understanding of how government is handling their hard-earned tax dollars,” said McHose, R-Sussex, Warren and Morris. “People deserve to know where their money is being spent, and the services they are getting from that investment.”

The bill stipulates that the website contain a comprehensive collection of financial information regarding annual expenditures by State all agencies, annual State revenues, and annual State bonded indebtedness. Continue>>>
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February 24, 2014 3:33 AM

The Associated Press' executive editor called on governments around the world to support an independent press, warning Monday that efforts to silence the media through intimidation and violence are "in effect an attack on a nation's people."

Kathleen Carroll said the media can be a proxy for questions and concerns by citizens and the role of independent journalists is to ask questions on behalf of the people and bear witness.

"Governments may not always enjoy the work of an independent press, but an independent press is a vital part of the dialogue that governments around the world have with their citizens," she said in an address to representatives of state media, independent news organizations and government officials at the Sharjah International Government Communication Forum. Continue>>>
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AP, journalism, transparency
February 20, 2014 3:33 AM

Some city of Beaufort officials say they will consider formal training to teach board and commission members about public-meeting and public-records law.

The need for instruction was made starkly evident when the Historic District Review Board violated the S.C. Freedom of Information Act by adjourning a recent meeting and continuing to discuss board business with a quorum present.

Training is a welcomed possibility, but it raises a question: Who will conduct it? Continue>>>
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February 20, 2014 1:11 AM

Governor Bill Haslam on Thursday announced the launch of “Transparent Tennessee,” an overhaul of the state’s transparency website to offer more user-friendly information online to Tennessee taxpayers.

Transparent Tennessee is a one-stop shop for searching public data on how state dollars are spent. The site includes a searchable checkbook with more interactive data related to state agency expenses, vendor payments and travel reimbursements.

“A state government that is accountable to Tennessee taxpayers is an important part of being customer-focused, efficient and effective,” Governor Haslam said. “The advanced function of this website will allow citizens more access to information about how state dollars are spent.” Continue>>>
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February 17, 2014 5:55 AM

It's not often that the Interior Department calls, and so when caller ID indicated it was someone in the department calling, I answered the phone. The funny thing about that call, though, was it was going on six years late in coming.

The caller worked in the Office of Inspector General's Freedom of Information Office. Back in November 2009, you see, the Traveler had filed a Freedom of Information Act request into how the National Park Service handled an investigation into alleged embezzlement from the Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site.

Ten days after we submitted that request, a letter arrived announcing that the request had been received and assigned a case number. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2014 4:44 AM

More than two centuries ago, the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe established the cornerstones of this great commonwealth and the United States.

They built this commonwealth and nation understanding a fundamental principle — that without transparent and open government accountable to the people, those people cannot be free.

But today, many of Virginia’s elected leaders heap shame upon themselves and this commonwealth’s legacy by oppressing those very principles of openness and transparency for which those who strode the same halls before them risked their lives. Continue>>>
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February 17, 2014 3:33 AM

Since it was launched last year, The Telegraph’s Open Government Project has often highlighted the difficulty of getting access to government records, but this week, we want to acknowledge public servants in Nashua who went the extra mile to bring transparency to their work.

The story begins with a request for records about the city’s ongoing branding project. On Jan. 24, The Telegraph filed a Right to Know request with the city seeking copies of all communications between Nashua employees and North Star Destination Strategies, the Tennessee firm hired to develop Nashua’s new brand.

The branding project has evolved in unexpected ways since it was approved by aldermen in 2012, and the newspaper was hoping to learn more about how the process unfolded.

Under its contract, North Star expressly agreed that all documents it created for the city “shall be treated as public records” and “shall be available for inspection and copying by any person,” unless designated as confidential under state law. Continue>>>
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February 14, 2014 3:33 AM

While opposed by open-government advocates, a Senate bill advanced in the state Legislature this week - with amendments - to allow county council members to jointly attend any meetings or presentations without violating the state's Sunshine Law, as long as the gathering is open to the public.

An amended Senate Bill 2962 passed out of the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Among those on the committee, which voted unanimously in favor, was panel Vice Chairwoman and South and West Maui Sen. Roz Baker.

A companion measure, House Bill 2139, is set to be heard at 2 p.m. today by the House Judiciary Committee. No Maui House members sit on that panel. Continue>>>
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