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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February 26, 2015 1:40 PM

Illinois State Police on Tuesday released hundreds of pages of documents and hours' worth of audio recordings from its lengthy investigation into the Springfield Police Department’s 2013 file-shredding scandal, revealing apparent contradictions among city personnel about how and why things happened the way they did.

There were no real revelations, though one of the former members of the city’s legal department, Geannette Wittendorf, told investigators she received approval from a public access counselor with the state Attorney General’s Office, giving the OK to shred documents that were the subject of an open-records request. An assistant attorney general denied providing any such guidance.

The release of the more than 800 pages of documents and audio recordings from the nearly yearlong investigation, which occurred during Mayor Mike Houston’s tenure, came on the day of the city’s primary election, with Houston competing against four challengers to advance to the April general election and ultimately earn another four-year term. Continue>>>

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February 26, 2015 1:36 PM

A new guide to Tennessee’s open records and open meetings laws should have a lasting impact on good government across our state.

“Keys to Open Government” a 52-page book, was released earlier this month at the Tennessee Press Association’s winter convention. Perhaps no one was waiting breathlessly, but that doesn’t diminish the need for such a resource.

Written by yours truly and edited by my colleague Deborah Fisher at the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, “Keys” is a guide we hope will help journalists, citizens and elected and appointed officials navigate the laws designed and enacted to keep government actions open and above board. Continue>>>
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February 26, 2015 1:32 PM

Alabamians who care about transparency in government should be pleased to see – and to support – legislation that will repair the damage done to the public good by three deeply disturbing decisions of the Alabama Supreme Court. A prefiled bill by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, responsibly addresses the issues in those open government decisions.

In 2012, the court upheld the fundamentally dishonest practice of so-called "serial meetings," smaller gatherings of government bodies in which there is never a quorum present, but in which important matters that will come before the full body are discussed. It's a sneaky way around the Open Meetings Act, but the court held that is not unlawful.

Ward's bill prohibits serial meetings. That alone is enough to warrant supporting it, but the bill goes further in strengthening the right of Alabamians to know what their government is doing. Continue>>>

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February 26, 2015 1:28 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union has released records it had obtained via Freedom of Information requests from police agencies across the state of Florida, detailing widespread law enforcement use of surveillance technology kept secret not only from ordinary American citizens, but from judges and the court system, too.

This secrecy is allegedly justified in the name of “national security” although, as the ACLU notes in the records it released yesterday, a detailed list of over 250 investigations from just one city's police department showed not a single case related to national security.

And although yesterday's ACLU investigation only looked at Florida, state and local law enforcement agencies in at least 20 states and Washington D.C. use this secret surveillance technology. Continue>>>
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February 26, 2015 1:24 PM

A government oversight group on Tuesday filed a motion in federal court to force the Obama administration to release thousands of records linked to the IRS’s targeting of conservative-leaning groups.

Cause of Action is seeking the enforcement of a prior court order requiring the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) to produce more than 2,500 documents.

The group argues that TIGTA continues to protect the White House by denying the disclosure of the records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Continue>>>
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February 26, 2015 1:17 PM

Last year, country music star Garth Brooks began his latest tour at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, but after months of resistance the village has only now released certain financial details of Brooks's 11-show stand.

Though the concerts were held in September, Rosemont declined to release financial figures, even passing an ordinance to keep that information under wraps. At that time, Brooks was said to gross $12 million from selling 183,535 tickets to the shows -- both huge numbers -- but now the Chicago Tribune has reported that the village also paid Brooks $1,050,000 in the form of a "rebate". That is, the report said, Rosemont paid $100,000 for each of 10 shows, and another $50,000 for the 11th show, which did not sell out.

A spokesperson for Rosemont told the Tribune that the town made more than $2 million from the concerts, but did not provide any documentation to back up that claim. The Tribune explained that Rosemont only released the information after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a binding opinion late last month that the financial details were subject to freedom-of-information laws. It's not clear if the deal with Brooks is typical, since Rosemont has not released information about other agreements with entertainers who perform at Allstate Arena, the report added. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 1:05 AM

The legal attack hit Kevin Folta in early February.

After receiving a FOIA request from US Right to Know—a nonprofit dedicated to exposing “the failures of the corporate food system“—the University of Florida notified Folta, a food and agricultural science professor at the university, that he would have to turn over all of his e-mails relating to correspondence with 14 different firms involved in agribusiness. His options: Submit all of his emails and allow lawyers to sift through them independently, or spend hours doing it himself alongside legal counsel.

The request is a response to public arguments by Folta that genetically modified foods are safe. Folta compares the strength of the scientific consensus on GM safety to the consensus on climate change and vaccines, and US Right to Know—or USRTK—believes the food and agricultural industries may be pressuring Folta and other scientists into voicing such arguments. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 1:00 AM

National Immigration Law Center and other legal aid and public interest groups filed a Freedom of Information Act suit Friday seeking access to records relating to worksite raids led by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement to uncover undocumented workers.

The center, along with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, The Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center, Dolores Street Community Services and National Employment Law Project, allege that ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have failed to adequately comply with an April 12, 2012, written request seeking information regarding the ICE’s administration of its worksite enforcement strategy.

“Having exhausted all of their administrative remedies, plaintiffs are filing the present lawsuit to compel defendants’ compliance with FOIA and the production of the requested records in their entirety,” the lawsuit states. Continue>>>

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February 25, 2015 12:54 AM

The Florida First Amendment Foundation is tracking more than 80 bills in the Florida Legislature, some of which it says would hide important government records from public view.

The independent watchdog group released its list of bills Monday. It labelled some of the bills neutral in their effect on government openness but said it would oppose others. Those include a bill by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, to allow identities of applicants for top state university offices to remain anonymous.

The foundation said it's undecided on a bill by Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, to keep secret videos shot by police body cameras in private homes, schools and health care facilities. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 12:48 AM

It is understandable that former Metropolitan Sewer District Board Chairman James Craig withdrew his transparency challenge after ethics charges against him were tossed aside.

The attorney no longer had to fight the agency he led as chairman for more than two years.

But the unfortunate consequence of dropping the challenge is that all across Kentucky, government officials will continue their work without strong, clear guidance from the Attorney General’s Office on the use of private email accounts and text messaging. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 12:41 AM

With the upcoming Mayoral and Aldermanic elections for the City of Chicago, the city has apparently decided to keep requested public records a secret. The records requested are such that they could point to disqualification for office if revealed.

On January 31, 2015, I requested records relating to nearly every elected official in the City of Chicago government. The records I was seeking pertain to debts owed to the city, which included the time-frame for election petition filing. (read it below)

On February 2, 2015, I received an email extending the deadline by an additional five working days, and it stated the records would be provided on or before February 18, 2015. Continue>>>
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February 25, 2015 12:36 AM

The General Assembly held a public hearing last week on Raised Bill 6750, An Act Expanding The Requirement For Disclosure Of Arrest Records During A Pending Prosecution Under The Freedom Of Information Act.

The bill seeks to overturn a Connecticut Supreme Court decision last year, Comm’r of Public Safety v. FOIC, which set aside the Freedom of Information Commission’s longstanding (20 years!) interpretation of a provision of the Freedom of Information Act concerning the release of records concerning arrests.

The Supreme Court decision was bad for openness and transparency, the proposed bill is good and the arguments against the bill are weak. The legislature should pass the bill and the governor should sign it. Continue>>>
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