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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April 21, 2014 8:00 AM

For decades, Florida’s best leaders have embraced open, accountable, ethical government as a fundamental right of the state’s residents.

But others aren’t so sure. Open-government rules are seen as stumbling blocks to efficient action, and inquisitive members of the public cast as annoying gadflies. Trust us, these officials say. We know what’s best. These warring points of view play out in nearly every session of the Legislature.

Last year, proponents of good government scored significant victories, pushing back against attempts to increase secrecy in government and making substantial progress in reforming the state’s patchy ethics codes. And when the state’s annual legislative session started in March, it looked like another good year for Florida’s residents. But with just two weeks left in the session, things aren’t looking so rosy. Continue>>>
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April 21, 2014 7:58 AM

The Queens Library trustees have joined President Tom Galante in stonewalling scrutiny of the system’s financial records. The whole lot of them must be scared.

Controller Scott Stringer has sought, so far without success, access to the library’s ledgers. In denying him, the trustees and Galante have once more asserted that, as a nonprofit organization, the library is beyond public accountability.
Guided by this preposterous notion, the trustees awarded Galante a $392,000 annual contract, permitted him to collect $143,000 working long hours on the side for the Elmont, L.I., school district and kept him on the job despite a joint FBI and Department of Investigation probe.

The trustees are full of themselves — and of it. Continue>>>
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Library, new york
April 21, 2014 7:57 AM

IRS scandal update: Emails recently released through a Freedom of Information request seem to indicate that former IRS official Lois Lerner improperly contacted the US Department of Justice about whether Tea Party groups could be criminally prosecuted for “lying” on their applications about the scope of their political activities.

Although the details can understandably be confusing to the average American, the Internal Revenue Service stands accused of using a Nixon-style enemies list to go after political opponents of the Obama administration. Over the past year, the agency has been less than forthcoming if not stonewalling in producing documents related to the scandal.

The House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee has already voted to hold Lerner in contempt over her prior refusal to answer questions posed in two separate hearing about targeting of conservative political groups. Continue>>>
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IRS, non-profit, TEA Party
April 21, 2014 7:56 AM

Maryland was recently ranked 46th in the nation for transparency, but a new law could put the state ahead with a policy requiring that data be made more easily accessible to the public.
Though officials post a good deal of public information on Maryland's StateStat database, advocates of open government say that data can be hard to evaluate, search and use because it is not formatted in a way that computers can easily scan.
The Maryland Open Data Policy, passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley this month, requires the state to make much of its public information machine-readable and searchable.
"This is the first step of this new pillar of governmental transparency and open data," said Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government. Continue>>>
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Maryland, open data
April 21, 2014 7:55 AM

We believe: Cheyenne's downtown group should obey the state's transparency laws. Meanwhile, we like that the Legislature may be more open in the future. Tell us what you think: Contact us via email at opinion@wyomingnews.com.

Down: To Cheyenne’s Downtown Development Authority for its insistence on skirting state statutes on government transparency. Recently, the board met behind closed doors, allegedly to discuss issues related to attorney-client privilege. But when it came out, members voted to delay action on a policy regarding that issue. When challenged on the legality of that, the board’s attorney insisted that it was a legal closed session.

No, it was not. The state’s law on closed meetings says bodies may gather in executive session to discuss “matters concerning litigation to which the body is a party.” This was not that. Discussions of policy must be done in the open so the public can understand what the final decision is n and how it was reached. Continue>>>

April 21, 2014 7:53 AM

The town board has filed a Freedom of Information request with the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency, seeking information about the agency's involvement with the developer of the proposed Park Point housing complex.

The FOIL request comes on the heels of the IDA's decision to grant the developer, Wilmorite, a 25-year tax abatement for the $60 million SUNY New Paltz project, a move the town board has opposed.

The project's fate has been in limbo since the IDA approved an abatement April 9, only days after the town planning board refused to grant Wilmorite environmental approval unless it agreed to pay its taxes in full. Specifically, the FOIL asks for all information surrounding the creation of an abatement category geared to dormitories that was accepted by the IDA well after Wilmorite's plans became known. Continue>>>

April 14, 2014 8:26 AM

Drivers caught texting in Tennessee face fines up to $50, while those who use cellphones in classrooms or courtrooms may be forced to hand them over. Texting during church service is generally a no-no and considered down-right rude while dining with friends.

So, is it proper for lawmakers to converse with one another, their family or constituents via text during a public meeting? The answer appears to depend upon the message, open government proponents say, although getting to the message is quite another problem.

“This is a new one,” said Deborah Fisher, executive director at Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “Public officials ought to be very, very, careful in texting or emailing each other during a public meeting, because it does seem to be basically taking what should be open discussion into some type of private discussion … a veiled discussion right there in the public meeting.” Continue>>>
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April 14, 2014 8:13 AM

New state legislation is being drafted to require state agencies to comply with the section of the open-records law that calls for posting information online.

Part of New York’s Freedom of Information Law requires each state agency to maintain up-to-date “subject matter lists” — indexes of all records maintained by the agency — and to post them on the Internet.

A study by The Ithaca Journal of 86 state agencies, published in a March 15 Watchdog Report, found 79 agencies were not in compliance with that part of the law.

Two-thirds of the agencies had not posted a subject matter list online at all, according to the study. Continue>>>
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April 14, 2014 8:13 AM

The Emirates Identity Authority, the United Nations Public Administration Network and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs will jointly conduct the first Open Government Data Forum on April 28 and 29 at Ritz Carlton Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Abdulaziz Al Maamari, Director of Government communications and Community, Emirates ID, said 27 keynote speakers from 15 countries, mainly Europe, USA, and the region, will attend the meeting.

“The forum’s key topic revolves around the open data policy and how to allow it to customers in seamless and easy-to-use methods through making all elements and information available within a framework of content that is open for the public to use and reuse, leveraging thereby their level of knowledge and expertise.” Continue>>>
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April 14, 2014 8:12 AM

Secretary of State Ross Miller has found himself oddly under fire for aggressively upholding campaign disclosure laws, odd because some of his critics are self-professed champions of government transparency.

Miller, a Democrat, has been targeted for suing the Republican-aligned Alliance for America’s Future, a Virginia group that refused to register as a political action committee despite buying nearly $200,000 in political ads in 2010 supporting Brian Sandoval’s campaign for governor.

A District Court judge in Carson City agreed with Miller, fining the group $109,560 and ordering it to register as a political action committee. The group appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court but dropped the appeal last month, settling with Miller’s office. In the settlement, the group agreed to register as a political action committee, file campaign disclosure reports and pay a fine of $40,000. Continue>>>
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Nevada
April 14, 2014 8:10 AM

A resolution has been reached in the case of an Iron County Medical Care Facility (ICMCF) resident who filed a civil lawsuit against the facility, alleging that it had not lawfully complied with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Enacted federally in 1966, FOIA allows citizens to obtain access to public records with some exceptions. The state of Michigan passed its own version of FOIA in 1976.

ICMCF's attorney Kenneth Lane had claimed that resident Patrick Ward's prolific FOIA requests to the facility, which amounted to about one per day, were "overly broad" and "overly burdensome." As a result, he advised ICMCF to discontinue responding to the requests. Continue>>>
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FOIA, Montana
April 14, 2014 8:09 AM

Sometimes important public opinion research does not receive the attention it deserves. The Global Opening Government Survey – a study undertaken through collaboration between the World Bank’s Open Government Practice and RIWI Corporation, a Toronto-based company – is one such survey.

Global in scope, the Global Opening Government Survey spanned 63 countries on every continent. It asked the fundamental question: Do citizens perceive their governments to be open, as well as why, and how they want government to be more open.

Government openness is an important democratic requirement; it enables citizens to make informed choices, to question policies and hold politicians to account. In this sense, the extent to which citizens perceive government as open may be a litmus test for a healthy, democratic environment. Continue>>>
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