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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January 27, 2015 12:50 PM

New Mexico State University plans to propose extensive changes to restrict the reach of the state’s public records law – amendments that transparency advocates call “troubling” and vow to fight.

A document prepared by NMSU and obtained by the Journal describes a litany of proposed exemptions to the Inspection of Public Records Act, including some that would make secret much of the public sector hiring process and certain law enforcement activities.

The changes have also been a topic of discussion at the Council of University Presidents, made up of the heads of seven New Mexico public universities. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:48 PM

There is no better protection of our democracy than the public’s right to know — and its power to know — about the doings of its government.

Secrecy and darkness are the breeding ground of corruption and the succor of incompetence.

In Texas, we are fortunate to have a robust law that assumes, with some exceptions, that the government’s information is the people’s information. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:44 PM

For one state lawmaker, allowing political candidates to keep their home addresses out of the public record would help ensure their safety. For another, allowing former judges to keep their addresses and phone numbers out of public records would accomplish the same.

Three bills introduced so far during this legislative session would make what currently is public information private, including a measure that would keep the names of lottery winners secret for 90 days to give those people time to prepare for the world knowing.

While lawmakers pushing for such changes often say safety is their main concern, Leonard Downie Jr., vice president at large of The Washington Post, said bills of this nature can wind up limiting transparency and inhibiting the public's ability to hold the government accountable. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:39 PM

Greg Hines attended a closed-door settlement conference with a judge Friday morning related to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against them by City Attorney Ben Lipscomb.

Lipscomb, the elected city attorney, filed a federal lawsuit in November against the mayor and aldermen claiming his Constitutional rights were violated when the council transferred most of his duties to a staff attorney who answers to the mayor.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette formally objected to the settlement conference being closed, based on the open meetings clause of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:21 PM

Third Judicial District Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins made a ruling Thursday regarding Tennessee's Open Meetings Act that could have far-reaching legal significance.

During a hearing in a Greene County Chancery Court lawsuit which seeks to stop the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County and US Nitrogen's plans to use the Nolichucky River for the company's water supply (see related article, page A-1), Jenkins ruled that deliberations at public meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act must be audible in order to comply with the law.

He had earlier granted a Motion For Leave to Intervene in the case from the advocacy group Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) and its attorney, Richard L. Hollow, of Knoxville. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:10 PM

So much for a honeymoon.

On his second day in office, Gov. Wolf rescinded more than two dozen eleventh-hour appointments by his predecessor - firing the state's new open records officer, canceling judicial nominations, and effectively booting the former lieutenant governor from Temple University's board of trustees.

Wolf's office said he wasn't questioning their credentials for the posts but, rather, a "murky" appointment process by Gov. Tom Corbett that he called "anything but open and transparent." Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 12:11 PM

If you want to see your government in action, just take a seat in the gallery high above the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

But don’t take a picture, unless you want a visit from the security guard. Don’t shoot any video. And that spirited debate you hear below on multi-million-dollar cuts to the state’s most vulnerable citizens? Well, it doesn’t really amount to much. All the important stuff was worked out ahead of time, behind closed doors. Massachusetts’ democracy may be one of the oldest in the country. But it is also, in many respects, one of the most opaque.

Government websites are difficult to navigate. There are no clear penalties for state agencies that improperly deny public records requests. And the Legislature has exempted itself from the state’s public records and open meetings laws. Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 12:08 PM

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted an open-data initiative aimed at publishing much of the information that Los Angeles County collects in its regular course of business, and that's a good thing as far as it goes. The county is a little late to the game — the city of Los Angeles already has such a program, as do many other large city and county governments — but the open-data movement is still in a formative stage, and the county, as the biggest government in Southern California, is an important entrant into the field.

The move is a welcome example of a new spirit in county government that took hold late last year with the election of two new supervisors, a new sheriff and a new assessor. So it's tempting to take it at face value and presume that a county culture of transparency will follow. But a reality check is in order.

An open-data initiative — which might provide bulk information about various county functions — should not be confused with and cannot substitute for a county government that makes sharing essential information with the public a top priority. A contract with an open-data firm is a good route toward, say, posting property tax data, enumerating the number of lifeguard rescues at any given beach or comparing miles of streets paved in one district with another, and undoubtedly there will be useful things that creative data miners or entrepreneurs can do with that information. Continue>>>

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January 26, 2015 12:01 PM

New Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has appointed a veteran open-government expert to be the newly created position of open-government director for the state's General Land Office.

Hadassah Schloss had previously served as the General Land Office's records coordinator. She also was formerly the cost rules administrator for the Texas Attorney General's office.

In that position, Schloss handled complaints relating to open-records requests and provided government transparency training for government entities across the state. Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 11:53 AM

Two bills filed in the Arkansas Legislature would amend sections of the the state's Freedom of Information Act (Act 93 of 1967). One by Republican State Rep. Dan Douglas of Bentonville would add an exemption to public records available under the FOIA. The other, filed by State Rep. Nate Bell of Mena would set up a review process for executive sessions held by public agencies or commissions.

Rep. Douglas says his bill, HB1080, is intended to prevent ongoing academic research at public universities or community colleges from being disclosed to the public before the research is finished. He says it would prevent any data, prematurely organized, from becoming skewed by the public.

“And that's all it is, just to try and make sure we get the truth and nothing but the truth and all the data after it's fully tabulated,” says Douglas. Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 11:51 AM

The Board of Estimate and Taxation approved a new set of minutes for a meeting which a state judge said was improperly closed to the public.

The Board of Education, in a separate meeting, cast two votes to approve the minutes, but most of its members either abstained or were not eligible to weigh in on the matter.

At its meeting Wednesday, the BET added a more expansive account of a meeting it held in February of 2013, during which a consultant with an environmental firm, AECOM, laid out three potential scenarios to clean up contaminated soil at Greenwich High School. Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 11:40 AM

The Michigan Court of Appeals published a decision today that orders Oakley to release the names of donors to the village police fund.

The decision, signed digitally by Michael J. Riordan and Patrick M. Meter on Jan. 23, does not make a decision on whether the village should release the names of reservists serving as part of the Oakley Police Department.

The decision orders Saginaw County Circuit Court to hold hearings for more information. The case was filed on behalf of village resident Shannon Bitterman, wife of Oakley Trustee Dennis Bitterman. The Bittermans are owners of the Oakley Family Tavern and have claimed police have harassed their customers and employees. Continue>>>

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