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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March 29, 2015 11:16 PM
At the request of the governor and prosecutors, the Virginia State Police are investigating the arrest of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson by Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, but it’s unlikely the public will have access to much of the investigation.
 
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act allows nearly all aspects of a criminal investigation to remain private, even after the investigation has closed. Law enforcement agencies can choose to release information from investigations but state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said that rarely happens in her agency.
 
An investigation was requested after pictures and videos of Johnson’s arrest show him on the ground with blood covering his face. Johnson’s attorney has stated that he needed 10 stitches. The agents have been put on administrative duties while state police review whether the incident violated policies.Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 11:15 PM
The State Department is fighting a journalist's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding that the agency process for release a broad swath of email and other records produced by Hillary Clinton's aides during her four years as secretary of state.
 
The request Vice News reporter Jason Leopold filed in November initially sought all records of Clinton's office during her tenure, including all emails, as well as all records pertaining to meetings Clinton or any of her top aides attended during that time. After a Justice Department lawyer said that demand was too broad, Lepoold's lawyer agreed to limit the request to records relating to any of 60 topics, including Gaza, Guantanamo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, targeted assassinations, emails between Clinton and aide Philippe Reines and memos about the Freedom of Information Act itself.
 
However, the State Department is insisting that the request is still too burdensome. Continue...
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March 29, 2015 11:14 PM
Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law is getting a little cloudy from three dozen bills that, if passed, would create exceptions ranging from not disclosing finalists for top state university and college jobs to exempting addresses and other information on all former and active members of the military.
 
For average citizens, it means less information on a wide range of issues to which they have had access for at least five decades. That also means less opportunity to have a say in issues or decisions being made that affect them.
 
Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law — the foundation for later evolution in access to public records, various meetings and prohibitions against secret meetings — was passed by the Florida Legislature in 1967. Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 11:13 PM
The kerfuffle over the email policy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to fester. Critics call her use of a private server for official business a contemptuous slap against transparency, while defenders say she is not alone in shielding business-related emails from the public.
 
Indeed, the website Politico noted in a recent story that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to Congress, which means emails by Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — Republicans who are possible presidential candidates, as is Democrat Clinton — are likely to remain closed to public scrutiny.
 
To which we say: The terms of this debate are all wrong. The onus shouldn’t be on the public to prove why their elected officials’ correspondence should be open to scrutiny; it should be on the officials to prove why their emails should be off-limits in the first place.Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 11:13 PM
An incredible amount of money — about $140 billion — is on the line. Teacher evaluations, tighter ethics laws for lawmakers, higher education and school funding, environmental cleanup money and much more are all getting hashed out behind closed doors in Albany these days.
 
It is an unseemly, sullied process, rarely leading to the best deal.
 
Certainly, it is an absolute affront to open government, despite repeated promises from virtually everyone involved to have a more inclusive, open method of passing a budget. Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 11:12 PM
As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s use of a personal email account has recently come under scrutiny, Charlottesville Tomorrow has evaluated the email practices of Charlottesville’s City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
 
Two of the 11 elected officials on these bodies advertise personal email addresses on their government website, and neither locality has made it a practice to routinely archive communications from personal email accounts.
 
“Having a government email address is important from an accountability standpoint because it offers immediate accountability,” said Megan Rhyne, associate director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. “It’s a citizen’s right to see what their government is up to.” Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 11:08 PM
For democracy to work, citizens need to know what their government is up to. Hillary Clinton hid her emails as secretary of state from her citizen bosses. She wanted us to know only what she wanted us to know. Scott Walker hid his emails as Milwaukee County executive, too.
 
Could both of these presidential candidates have achieved their goals without breaking the rules? It appears so. They broke the rules anyway.
 
It's a bipartisan effort, this hiding from the public. We battle continually to gain access. This month, we asked to intervene in two court cases: Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 10:49 PM

A South Carolina State University board committee's recent meeting to approve an organizational structure for the institution was illegal, says Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association.

The university was nearing the March 13 deadline to hand in documents to the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges and an approved organizational structure was part of the package required by the accrediting agency.

Trustees failed to vote on it at a meeting March 10. Instead, they gave authority to the board's executive committee to tentatively approve the document. Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 10:45 PM

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education notified parents this week that personal information about students was inadvertently sent to a reporter in February, education officials said.

District officials released an Excel file in response to a Freedom of Information Act inquiry from the Web site BuzzFeed, that included audited enrollment data about individual students and information about suspensions and expulsions.

Personal information was redacted, and the file was locked when it was sent, but education officials later realized that the file could be unlocked. Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 10:40 PM

The state Attorney General's office is welcoming the public for an educational forum on Open Meeting Law in Hanover on Wednesday, April 1. 

The meeting is one way the office aims to help governing bodies as well as members of the public to better understand and comply with the requirements of the Open Meeting Law, according to a news release. State, local, regional, and county public bodies are required to comply with the Open Meeting Law.

Since taking over responsibility for enforcement of the Open Meeting Law at all levels of government in July 2010, the Attorney General's Division of Open Government has responded to more than 10,300 telephone and email inquiries from members of public bodies, municipal counsel, and the public, the release said. Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 10:36 PM

The state's Open Meeting Law is "unfair and undemocratic." It "puts cold water on the process and stifles innovation." The law is used to "harass local officials," and its agenda is to make things easier for the press, "who have done nothing to deserve it."

Those are just a few of the comments made by small-town select board members and others on Saturday, following a presentation by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy and her staffer Amy Nable on the state law that's designed to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open.

Healy was elected attorney general in November, and Nable is chief of the office's Division of Open Government. The occasion was Sen. Stan Rosenberg's 2015 municipal conference held at the Clarion Hotel in Northampton, an annual event for local officials from Hampshire and Franklin counties. Continue>>>
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March 29, 2015 10:29 PM

For the third consecutive General Assembly, a bill to make the University of Delaware and Delaware State University subject to Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests has been introduced.

In 2011, House Bill 126 never made it out of committee. In 2014, House Bill 331 passed unanimously — but not in the form sponsors intended.

Now, lawmakers are taking another crack at it.
All three bills have sought to define the universities as public bodies, thus removing exemptions to FoIA requests.
Enacted nationally in 1966 and in Delaware in 1977, the Freedom of Information Act opened up government, allowing citizens to submit formal requests for information. Continue>>>
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