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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January 17, 2017 1:00 PM

The California Supreme Court recently issued a closely split ruling in a case involving whether or not the legal bills from settled suits involving government entities within the state are public information. A member of an advocacy group wonders how the decision will affect taxpayers.

On Dec. 29, the court voted 4-3 that while the bills for long-settled legal matters could be accessed by the public, those invoices relating to current or pending litigation were protected by the purview of attorney-client privilege.

Continue...

January 17, 2017 12:57 PM

Following a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing and lawsuits, Illinois’ Better Government Association (BGA) recently succeeded in forcing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to release private emails that pertain to city business.

BGA effected a policy change through Cook County court rulings that public officials’ private emails are covered under FOIA.

After a legal tussle lasting over a year that included a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Tribune, the BGA expressed satisfaction with the outcome.

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January 17, 2017 12:55 PM

Just six months ago, [MuckRock] reported that the FBI had quietly changed their FOIA processing queues without alerting anyone or updating their website. And now, once again, the Bureau has changed their standards for FOIA processing - before a request had to be 2,500 pages or more to be classified as large or complex. Now, without any announcement or update to the Bureau’s website, the number’s down to 51 pages.

According to the FBI’s website as of publication, a request still has to be 951 pages or more to qualify as large or complex. However, according to correspondence the FBI sent on December 8th, the medium track for FOIA requests has been eliminated entirely.

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January 13, 2017 9:52 AM

It’s optimistic to believe that this (or really any) legislative session in Virginia will make a turn toward openness and away from punching holes in the law that ensures public access to documents and meetings.

But maybe, just maybe, this could be a session where lawmakers choose to hold the line on those principles and act with deference toward the people’s right to know.

The most significant bills on the subject offered in this year’s session are the omnibus packages produced by the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council’s three-year study of the commonwealth’s open government law.

As has been outlined repeatedly on these pages and elsewhere around the state, the changes sought in an effort to modernize the Freedom of Information Act fall far short of the ideal.

Virginia’s FOIA includes more than 170 exemptions that have, over time, eroded its effectiveness as a crowbar to pry loose documents that should be public and to pry open the doors of meeting rooms that should not be closed. Continue…
 

January 13, 2017 9:50 AM

A $1 million grant from the Craig Newmark Foundation, the charitable organization established by Craigslist Founder Craig Newmark, to the Poynter Institute addresses one of the thornier dilemmas arising from the recent election—how newsrooms should identify and respond to "fake news."

The gift supports a five-year program at Poynter that focuses on "verification, fact-checking and accountability in journalism." It also funds a faculty chair, dubbed the Newmark Chair, to expand on Poynter's teaching in journalism ethics and develop certification programs for journalists that commit to ethical decision making practices. The faculty member will also organize an annual conference on ethics issues at Poynter and be a regular contributor to Poynter.org.

It's the largest donation the St. Petersburg, Florida-based Poynter has ever received from an individual foundation.

Now, I know what you're thinking. The Poynter Institute is a nonprofit journalism school. (It also owns the Tampa Bay Times newspaper.) Shouldn't it already be up to speed in terms of journalism ethics? Continue…
 

January 13, 2017 9:48 AM

Puerto Rico’s new governor has signed an executive order creating a new public affairs and public policy secretary position that will be responsible for drawing up proposed legislation similar to the Freedom of Information Act that has long been enforced in the U.S. mainland.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Tuesday that the legislative proposal will be discussed with the media and the public before it goes to legislators for debate. Continue…
 

FOI, Puerto Rico
January 13, 2017 9:47 AM

State regulators and an organization that proposes workers’ compensation coverage rates in Florida defended themselves in pleadings to a state appeals court this week, seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that they had violated open-government laws.

Attorneys for the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, submitted their arguments in a brief filed Wednesday with the 1st District Court of Appeal. The state office of Insurance Regulation is also a party to the suit, filed by Miami workers’ compensation attorney James Fee.

“The trial court’s order is flawed in numerous respects, fails to follow decades of binding precedent, ignores the plain language of relevant Florida statutes, and makes factual findings that lack record support and are directly contrary to the uncontradicted evidence,” the brief says.

“Florida’s Sunshine Law applies only to boards or commissions of governmental entities,” the document says. “NCCI is a private corporation, not a governmental entity, and no governmental entity has delegated the performance of its public, rate approval purpose to NCCI.” Continue…
 

January 13, 2017 9:45 AM

A long-running legal battle over the governor’s decision to deny a 2014 open-records request was resolved in Pence’s favor by a three-judge panel.

By a 2-1 vote, the court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Pence acted properly when he withheld some documents that had been sought by Indianapolis attorney William Groth under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. The court agreed with Pence’s argument that the documents, which related to Indiana’s decision to join the state of Texas in a legal challenge to an immigration order by President Barack Obama, were legal working papers that were exempt from public disclosure.

Judge Edward Najam wrote that one of the documents the governor decided to withhold, a “white paper” on legal strategy that was prepared by a Texas official, “is exactly the type of record that may be excluded from public access under APRA.” The court ruled that the governor’s decision to redact some information from legal invoices related to the decision was similarly within the law.

This is the way the law is supposed to work. The Indiana public access counselor, Luke Britt, and a superior court judge had previously come to the same conclusion.

But Pence’s legal team sought to go much further, citing an Indiana Supreme Court decision last year that has made the legislature virtually exempt from its own open-records requirements. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 7:35 AM

The executive director of the state Committee on Open Government really took to heart Sen. Brad Hoylman’s Friday request for an “expedited” advisory opinion on the question of whether or not the state Senate’s new rule barring the use of cellphones as audio, video or photographic recording devices within the chamber and its public galleries without the permission of the Senate secretary violates the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Robert Freeman’s conclusion, in a five-page letter to Hoylman dated Monday, is that the rule is clearly contrary to state law.

The letter — which backs up comments Freeman made to journalists last week in the wake of Wednesday’s adoption of the chamber’s rules, including the cellphone ban — notes the decades of legal precedent that defines what constitutes a “public body” and requires that such bodies must make their proceedings available for photography, audio and video recording and broadcast. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 7:34 AM

Two of Gov. Kate Brown’s top staffers stepped down last week following news reports that employment they held outside of her office could compromise their work for the government.

The governor’s spokespeople argued the assertions were baseless as the story played out. And since the resignations were confirmed, they haven’t acknowledged what might have been learned. What’s so dismaying is how familiar it feels.

Willamette Week had raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Kristen Leonard, Brown’s chief of staff, and Abby Tibbs, her deputy chief of staff. A main issue for Leonard, who had served in the role since late 2015, centered on a software company she owns with her husband that has a $214,000 contract with the state to provide agencies with a tool to track legislative bills.

Tibbs, who joined the office full-time in December, had been overseeing budget work for Brown since October while on leave from her job as a lobbyist for Oregon Health and Science University.

Both Leonard and Tibbs resigned this week and Brown’s spokesman has said the departures weren’t related to the recent press reports. Continue…
 

ethics, Governor, Oregon
January 11, 2017 7:33 AM

Government transparency was one of the big topics at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information held a joint press conference with other local groups to raise their concerns over government email deletion and other transparency issues.

"It seems like the only way we can discover emails is through a lawsuit and if the emails don't exist, or even if they do exist, and they say they don't have them, how do we know?" St. Paul Strong member Jim Mannillo asks during a press conference at the capitol Tuesday morning.

The concern over public emails came after various policies were revealed showing how some governmental entities have been deleting public emails to free up their servers.

KARE 11 did a news story in December that showed Hennepin County has a policy of deleting emails after 180 days. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office deletes its emails every 30 days. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 7:32 AM

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley last week announced a list of measures he is asking the Legislature to pass this session. While all are important, there was one that stood out to us: making criminal booking photographs part of the public record.

You know them as “mug shots.”

Whenever anybody is arrested for a crime, law enforcement agencies take a photograph of the accused.

Arrest records are public information. You, as a citizen, have a right to know who is being arrested by law enforcement agencies in your state, city or neighborhood. There is no question about that. You have every right to know what crimes are being committed, and by whom.

Apparently, however, you do not have the right to know what the perpetrators look like.

Mug shots currently are not considered part of the public record, so police can – and do – keep them secret. Jackley wants to change that, and we support him in that endeavor. Continue...
 

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