FOI Advocate News Blog

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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 29, 2014 6:47 AM

The day after the state Supreme Court issued its second ruling in a month scaling back what our government has to do in public, I got a note from someone close to the chief justice that said, “It seems pretty clear the Court in this case and Lambries is telling the Legislature to revise the FOIA.”

That same day, the head of the S.C. Press Association foreshadowed what lots of critics would say when he complained that the court once again had ruled against openness and “punted important issues back to the Legislature for change.”

And it occurred to me that this might be a good time to review the job we assign to courts in our system of government. Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:46 AM

Upon entering office in January of 2009, President Obama promised us an era of openness and transparency in the federal government.

He set a policy in place mandating that federal records be released when requested by the public, on the premise that "sun-light is said to be the best of disinfectants." He instructed the executive departments and agencies to operate with a presumption towards disclosure when handling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. On this point he stated as follows:

"The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public."

These instructions were followed up by further instructions in a memo from Attorney General Eric Holder on March 19, 2009. The Attorney General stated as follows: Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:45 AM

The disappearance of rights is seldom an immediate process. There are too many people willing to stand up and fight against such an undermining of power. The danger is when it comes as a trickle or a tweak. That’s what slowly erodes the soul of transparency.

Gov. Pat Quinn recognized the steep downward slope on which such a tweak would have perched Illinois’ open records law last week when he vetoed a legislative plan to give municipalities more leeway in answering some requests for information. Let’s hope lawmakers leave it alone.

The state’s open records laws stipulate what government agencies must show the public. It doesn’t matter if it’s a school board or a state’s attorney, the overriding belief is that people have a right to know how their money is being spent and what their government is doing. Continue>>>
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illinois, open records
July 29, 2014 6:43 AM

In his first day in office, President Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for a new era of open and accountable government.

“My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” — President Obama, Jan. 21, 2009

In today’s increasingly digital world, it is vital that the American public has access to all appropriate federal government communications to improve transparency and increase trust. Yet, five years after the president’s commitment, the government has yet to effectively and safely create this level of openness. Given that the federal government is now the single largest producer, collector, consumer and disseminator of information in the U.S., there is no doubt that it’s time to review policies and procedures of information communication and dissemination to determine a real-time approach to information management. Continue>>>

July 29, 2014 6:42 AM

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government announced the winners of its annual awards dedicated to open government. The group announced three recipients of the Dixon First Amendment Award, one lawyer, one journalist and one in government.

Charles “Kip” Purcell will be given the award for lawyers, Colleen Heild of the Albuquerque Journal will be given the award for journalists and State Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, for members of government.

“The battle against government secrecy is a lifelong fight that many appreciate yet few actually wage,” Kathi Bearden, FOG president, said. “When you’re in it for the long haul, you’d better have a sharp intellect and a great sense of humor. Bill Dixon had both. We celebrate his memory and celebrate those who continue the fight in new and innovative ways. Their perseverance benefits us all and serves as a beacon for democracy through good government in a rapidly changing world.” Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:41 AM

Vision Internet, innovators in online government, today announced the winners of its inaugural “What’s Next” Awards competition, which recognizes local government websites for excellence in five categories: transparency, citizen engagement, online innovation, green gov and visual impact.

“In this digital age, municipal websites have become the go-to source of information for residents and the first impression for visitors, businesses and families thinking of moving into a community,” said Ashley Fruechting, Vision Internet’s director of strategic initiatives. “Our What’s Next Awards spotlight municipalities that exemplify how local government can embrace innovative technology to transform their organizations and enhance community interaction.”

The 2014 winners of Vision Internet’s What’s Next Awards are: Marion County, Florida, City of Palm Bay, Florida, City of Reno, Nevada, City of Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, City of San Angelo, Texas. Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:39 AM

Last week, I invited readers along on my journey through the Freedom of Information Act via one record request filed May 20. I asked the Department of the Army for records of a government contractor who had been blacklisted in April for some kind of violation. The story so far: Aside from a letter acknowledging my request, I have received zip.

A congenial Army FOIA program analyst called me Monday morning and promised to check into my request. He kept his word, and gave me the name and number of an actual person in the Army unit that might actually be somewhere close to the record in question. I left two messages for that person, but no one called back.

On the advice of the Twitterati, I escalated to the FOIA Public Liaison, who, according to a number of government web sites, is named Bruno Leuyer. The woman who answered his phone said he was in a meeting, but did not seem to know what a FOIA public liaison was. She sent me back to the Army FOIA office, and said she would have the supervisor of the Army FOIA program manager call me that day. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:08 AM

If the police shoot a man, saying that he was shooting at them, but the autopsy shows the man had no gunshot residue on his hands and that he was shot in the back, don’t you think the public has a right to know about it?

If it had happened in your community, to someone you know, or within the police or sheriff’s department on which you depend, wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want to demand further investigation? Isn’t this information crucial to making sure our government and police are acting properly?

The S.C. Supreme Court doesn’t think so. It ruled last week that autopsy reports, even when they are prepared at taxpayer expense, are medical records and can be kept private. This misguided ruling is a blow against open government, accountability and an informed public. 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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July 22, 2014 7:05 AM

Maybe the wisest thing state lawmakers did this year was require that Washington officialdom learn some fundamentals about open government.

All elected policymakers and records officers must now get formal training on the state’s Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act within 90 days of taking office. They also have to take a refresher every four years.

Here’s a quick primer from an open-government point of view:

• If a member of the public asks for a public record, turn it over. The public owns it, not your agency. Really.

• If the document is potentially embarrassing, turn it over anyway. If you think it’s embarrassing now, just wait until a judge orders you to release it after you’ve tried to hide it from the public for six months. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:04 AM

These are the kind of backroom deals that make people angry and distrustful of government.

In the final hours of the legislative session, state lawmakers crafted a pension law change that gives Louisiana's state police superintendent and one other trooper a sizable retirement boost, with no public debate of the implications or the cost. The price tag is estimated to be $300,000.

The deal was struck in a six-person legislative committee behind closed doors, with the bill's sponsor saying he had no understanding what the law change would do and no one directly taking ownership of the proposal. "Either somebody's not being candid or somebody didn't read this bill. That much is clear," said state Treasurer John Kennedy, who has raised concerns about the legislation. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:02 AM

Joseph Wood has the right to know about the lethal-injection drugs that will be used if he is executed on Wednesday. He should also know about the training of the execution team and how the execution protocol was developed.

Withholding that information is not simply violating Wood's right to know. It is violating the rights of all of us.

Arizona's plan to execute Wood is in flux because a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Saturday the public has a right to know how the death penalty will be carried out. The state plans to ask the full court to consider the opinion. A preliminary injunction on Wood's execution could be lifted by Wednesday if the state releases the information. Continue>>>
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