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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November 18, 2014 2:51 PM

Our recent election was exciting on both the local and national levels. I was honored to be re-elected to serve District 120. Running unopposed does take some of the anxiety out of the electoral process, but it doesn’t diminish my appreciation for all the congratulatory notes and calls from friends and supporters.

The closer we get to heading back to the Statehouse for session, the more our daunting challenges are beginning to look like good opportunities for real, substantive reforms, especially regarding those two priority matters, ethics and transportation infrastructure.

Much of my summer has been taken up serving on the two study committees preparing recommendations on these priorities, to be presented to the full House shortly after we reconvene. Continue>>>

November 18, 2014 2:43 PM

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is looking to industry to fund its open data initiatives in partnerships intended to meet its unfunded mandates while also spurring innovation in the private sector.

NOAA creates and gathers terabytes of information each day, much of which could be highly valuable if utilized within its window of usefulness. The agency wants to get the data to the people but doesn’t have the resources to make that happen, according to David McClure, lead analyst for NOAA’s Open Government Data Services.

With budgets flat, McClure’s team is looking to private industry to support this effort by providing public clouds to maintain copies of NOAA’s raw data. In turn, the companies leading the effort would charge at the point of access as a means of recouping their costs and reap the economic benefits of having the data available, along with everyone else. Continue>>>

November 18, 2014 11:24 AM

A group that claims to be a champion of transparency has been filing a slew of lawsuits against Florida's government agencies, ostensibly to force the agencies to comply with public records laws. But just how much money has the group won? They're not willing to say.

Over the past few weeks, the Citizens Awareness Foundation, Inc. has faced accusations that the real reason it's filing so many lawsuits is to win cash settlements, not to serve the public interest. When New Times asked CAFI to show us some of the records they sought and how much they settled for, the open records group denied our repeated requests.

CAFI's former president Joel Chandler says he quit the six-figure gig after figuring out that is was a racket. (CAFI says he was fired for misusing funds.) He says the way it works is this: A public records request is sent to a government agency. If that group doesn't respond in a timely manner, ignores it, or illegally denies it, CAFI files a lawsuit. And quite often, it's cheaper for a government agency to settle than to fight it out in court, so CAFI gets paid. Continue>>>
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November 18, 2014 11:23 AM

The importance of the Freedom of Information Act is clearly written in West Virginia Code.

The “declaration of policy” is as follows:

“Pursuant to the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government which holds to the principle that government is the servant of the people, and not the master of them, it is hereby declared to be the public policy of the state of West Virginia that all persons are, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government they have created. To that end, the provisions of this article shall be liberally construed with the view of carrying out the above declaration of public policy.”Continue>>>
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November 18, 2014 11:17 AM

Watchdog group Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Obama Administration in October, in order to obtain records relating to media monitoring plan records.

More specifically, the FOIA is against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and relates to a “Critical Information Needs” (CIN) pilot study conducted by the government agency. The study revolved around how media outlets make editorial decisions when covering stories.

The FCC's Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs study, announced in May 2013, had a stated purpose to analyse the "access/barriers to CINs in diverse American communities … with special emphasis on vulnerable/disadvantaged populations." Continue>>>
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November 18, 2014 11:14 AM

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission does not have to release records about its supervision of Wall Street's arbitration process to a group of investors' lawyers, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ends, at least for now, a long-running battle about the public's right of access to documents about the SEC's oversight over the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's arbitration system.

FINRA, the Wall Street industry-funded watchdog, runs the arbitration forum where investors and brokerages must resolve their legal disputes. The SEC oversees and examines FINRA, which is a private organization. Continue>>>

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November 18, 2014 11:10 AM

Today marks the seven-month anniversary of my oldest outstanding public records request, so please indulge me in some ventilation. Back on April 14, before the snow of last winter melted, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Today, snow once more whitens the ground, and I'm still waiting.

I have asked for the following: Records relating to the "troubled" designation granted to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of the City of Mound, as well as the most recent list of troubled housing authorities nationwide. I had noticed Mound's name as the only Minnesota public housing authority on this list, so I thought this request would be a simple matter.

Silly me. Continue>>>

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November 17, 2014 2:40 PM

Investments in open data initiatives are rising at all levels of government, especially in counties and cities, where decision-makers expect to increase funding in the next six months, according to a new survey.

Seattle-based Socrata, which specializes in democratizing access to government data, surveyed 961 federal, state and local government employees. Eighty percent said they would invest money and resources in open data initiatives. Of those, 28 percent said they would invest more money, and 52 percent said funding would remain the same.

“Respondents from counties and cities are the most likely to say they are going to invest more, though significant proportions of federal and state respondents also say they will be increasing their investment,” according to Socrata’s Open Data Benchmark Report. Continue>>>
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November 17, 2014 2:24 PM

With $750,000 in additional funding, the OpenGov Foundation plans to expand its footprint into the world of lawmaking tools for citizens and governments.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization reports the new investment comes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a civic tech philanthropy that, in July of 2013, funded the nonprofit with $200,000 to develop its Project Madison, an interactive platform that lets citizens opine on proposed and current legislation. The refill of capital is slated to fine-tune Madison further while extending a runway to launch new government partnerships for the group’s AmericaDecoded program, a campaign that liberates laws from publishing copyright for citizen access.

While it affects many, few know of copyright’s pervasive influence on law accessibility across the U.S. State departments and federal agencies — the primary users of the tactic — often employ copyright as a cost-cutting measure to publish and distribute legal codes and regulatory standards. Though this benefits publishers, who can sell online and printed copies for hundreds of dollars, and governments, that can defer editing and annotating costs, it creates paywalls that can lock citizens out. Continue>>>
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November 17, 2014 2:20 PM

The Florida Supreme Court stood unanimously on the side of good government Thursday when it ruled that the public has a right to see documents a Republican consultant created in connection with the Legislature's once-a-decade redistricting process. Now, barring an ill-advised rehearing request by the document owner, Floridians will be able to judge for themselves what role outsiders played in the controversial 2012 redistricting process. The court has reaffirmed its commitment and the state Constitution's requirement to open government.

Thursday's order came months after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled — based on some documents that were sealed by an emergency order of the state Supreme Court — that two congressional districts drawn in 2012 violated requirements in the state Constitution that districts be drawn without regard to protecting incumbents or political parties. State lawmakers met this summer in special sessions to draw a new map that was used in last week's election. Now the Supreme Court has reviewed the sealed documents and ordered them opened. They belong to Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter and his firm, Data Targeting Inc., and were found by Lewis to provide strong circumstantial evidence that he and other consultants had engaged in "a parallel redistricting process" in an effort to "subvert the political process."

Bainter initially argued the 538 pages of documents contained trade secrets central to his business. Then, as the trial was under way, he argued that the plaintiff's subpoena for the documents violated his First Amendment rights. On Thursday, the justices' rejected both claims and took particular umbrage at the late filing of the First Amendment objection, suggesting it was simply a trial tactic aimed at obfuscating the "truth-finding function of our justice system." Continue>>>
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November 17, 2014 2:15 PM

In another action brought by John Paff, a “self-proclaimed open government activist” who has pursued litigation to secure government documents pursuant to the Open Public Record Acts (“OPRA”) in several instances, a Superior Court judge held that Paff was entitled to the documents he sought as well as attorneys’ fees associated with the action.

By way of the action, captioned Paff v. Bergen County, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2455 (Law Div. Oct. 16, 2014), Paff sought un-redacted versions of internal affairs reports maintained by the Bergen County Sherriff’s Office (“BCSO”) concerning complaints against the corrections officers at the Bergen County Jail.

BSCO produced the reports in response to an OPRA request filed by Paff. However, the copies of the reports the BCSO provided to Paff were redacted to withhold the names of the complainants and the employees against whom the complaints were made. Paff, contending that these redactions were improper, sought relief from the Superior Court as provided for by OPRA. Continue>>>

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November 17, 2014 1:55 PM

Seventy-eight thousand, six hundred and fifty dollars may not be a huge sum in the budget of a town like Wallingford, but why should the town be granting that amount of taxpayer money annually to a “private, nonprofit organization” that doesn’t think those taxpayers are entitled to know what goes on at its meetings?

That’s one question raised by the complaint Town Councilor Craig Fishbein has filed with the Freedom of Information Commission against Wallingford Center Inc. There are others.

Fishbein filed back in April, having requested documents from the center more than a year earlier, he said. “They don’t let the public know when their meetings are and what their meetings are about,” he said. Continue>>>
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