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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May 3, 2016 7:40 PM

The Municipality of Anchorage has adopted an open data policy, to boost transparency through heightened community access to government information and data.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz explained, “Open data is really an important way of making sure information that the city collects, is available to everyone who lives here, and anyone who want to use it. It’s about having a transparent and efficient form of government.” Five initial areas will be focused on including housing, public health, public safety, finance and transportation.

The Mayor stated, “We have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people; people should know what kind of information we are collecting and should be able to use that information to either help make government more efficient, more effective, or to be able to use it and develop private alternatives." Continue...

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May 3, 2016 7:37 PM

A private prearranged discussion of public business by the majority of a public body’s members either face-to-face or by other means such as telephone, e-mail, text, or tweet, violates the Ohio Open Meetings Act, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

In a 5-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled former Olentangy Local School District Board of Education member Adam White can pursue his lawsuit against the school board for violating the Open Meetings Act. White alleged the violation happened when the board president sparked an exchange of e-mails with the other board members and school officials to respond to a newspaper editorial. The decision, authored by Justice Terrence O’Donnell, reverses the decision of the Fifth District Court of Appeals, which approved a trial court’s dismissal of White’s suit.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote the General Assembly has not applied the Open Meetings Act to e-mails and other forms of electronic communication, and an e-mail exchange by public officials would only be a violation if they prearranged a “real-time” exchange to subvert the law. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 6:12 PM

In what could be a blow to public access to Maine’s State House proceedings, Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, is questioning whether legislative committee meetings should continue to be recorded and archived.

Streamed online, the public meetings of the Legislature and its standing committees are available to anyone with an Internet connection. The sessions are also digitally recorded and are made available upon request to those who ask for them. Also streamed, recorded and archived are the proceedings of the state House and Senate. 

While Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, the state’s open meetings and public records law, requires the Legislature and almost all elected bodies in Maine to conduct the vast majority of their business in public, there are no requirements those proceedings be broadcast or digitally recorded. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 6:08 PM

A recent Congressional Research Service report compared and contrasted two Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, reform bills that are working their way through Congress.

Both bills – the Senate's FOIA Improvement Act (S 337) and the House's FOIA Act (HR 653) – would increase public access, including through electronic means; establish a statutory "presumption of openness," meaning that agencies can withhold information only if disclosing it would harm an interest protected by statutory exemption or law; and create a Chief FOIA Officers Council, responsible for informing FOIA administrators of best practices, according to the April 21 report.

Other shared goals included clarifying the right to request information related to intra- and interagency communication, standardizing agencies' use of search and duplication fees, and requiring agencies to notify requesters of the status of their requests and of dispute resolution processes for requests that they believe have been wrongly denied. Continue...

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May 3, 2016 6:04 PM

Accidents reports in Arkansas must be open to the public without the redaction of personal information, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

In a 5-2 decision, the court upheld a Pulaski County circuit judge's ruling that Little Rock lawyer Daniel Wren is entitled under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act to obtain unredacted accident reports from the Arkansas State Police.

Wren sought the reports so he could identify potential clients. The Arkansas State Police argued that it was required by the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 to redact personally identifying information from accident reports. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:12 PM

On April 28, the leaders of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary sent Gene L. Dodaro, the U.S. comptroller general, a letter requesting the General Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a comprehensive review of the federal government's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act.

The authors of the letter — Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Elijah Cummings and Darrell Issa along with Sens. Charles Grassley, Patrick Leahy and John Cornyn — requested that the GAO produce reports on seven topics. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:09 PM

Missouri Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-Affton, has been on a singular mission for months to restrict access to certain police records, not because it’s in the public’s best interests but because it fits her personal agenda.

She wants the entire public kept in the dark whenever anyone in Missouri commits or attempts suicide. It’s a private matter and simply not the public’s business, she suggests. Except that it actually is the public’s business, especially when a person who attempts suicide is an elected official like Montecillo.

We don’t want to appear callous regarding the history of childhood abuse that contributed to Montecillo’s suicide attempt last year. But for her to assert that the public had no interest and no right to know about the near death of a state legislator is absurd. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:06 PM

An Indiana Supreme Court decision is already having a negative impact on government transparency and access to records, just days after it was handed down, according to several Indianapolis attorneys.

On April 19, the Indiana Supreme Court effectively ruled state lawmakers can continue to withhold their email communications from public disclosure, including emails with constituents and lobbyists.

On April 22, attorney Bill Groth received another denial to a request he made under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act (APRA) for Governor Mike Pence’s communications. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:03 PM

An open government is a more honest and efficient government. But Ohioans often face unnecessary delays and obstacles when they ask for records that document what government is up to — either because public officials don’t know open-records laws, misinterpret them or purposely stall to cover up misdeeds.

Unless a citizen has tens of thousands of dollars and years to spend on a court lawsuit, he’s out of luck. Crooked or obstinate government officials know this, and use it to exploit the law.

A new bill proposed by Ohio Senate President Keith Faber would provide a much-needed fix, making it quick, cheap and easy for Ohioans to get a court order to produce denied records. Continue...

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May 2, 2016 8:00 PM

Both the state Freedom of Information Commission and the state's leading right-to-know advocacy group warned Friday that a proposed 20 percent budget cut for the commission — and the possible transfer of its public information officer into Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office — could greatly weaken state government transparency.

But the Senate chair of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, West Hartford Democrat Beth Bye, warned that the FOIC’s funding is far from settled, and many alternatives remain on the table.

“We are chipping away at the commission’s independence,” Colleen Murphy, executive director of the FOIC, said. “The beauty of the commission is that it doesn’t have to answer to any political party, philosophy, candidate or individual official.” Continue...

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April 29, 2016 5:00 PM

They call it “dark money” because it avoids the light of day. If the term sounds sinister to you, that’s because it is. And it has become the lifeblood of politics.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley knows a thing or two about it. So does Rebekah Caldwell Mason. While Bentley made a big deal about not accepting dark money in his campaign for governor, he turned around and paid Mason, his top “political adviser,” with dark money.

But the problem didn’t start with Bentley and Mason. It certainly isn’t limited to just this type of influence and it most definitely isn’t a new problem. And, as you may have guessed by now, the problem is bigger here than in most other states and it is growing. Continue...

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April 29, 2016 4:56 PM

The Michigan Court of Appeals has upheld the University of Michigan's practice of holding some of its board meetings behind closed doors.

The ruling upheld a lower court's ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Detroit Free Press.

"The Constitution permits defendant to hold informal meetings in private; defendant is only required to hold its formal meetings in public," the ruling said. Continue...

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