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 19, 2015 4:47 PM

Public records will become cheaper and easier to access under changes to Michigan's Freedom of Information Act.

Government agencies will not be allowed to charge more than 10 cents per page for copies of public records; they can face increased fines for delaying responses, and people seeking the records now can sue if they consider the fees to be exorbitant.

Dirk Milliman of the Michigan Press Association said the changes have been years in the making and involved compromise, but, overall, the new law increases transparency and access to public records. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:42 PM

Following a 2014 decision concerning the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the S.C. Supreme Court, exempting autopsy results from the information available to the public, Sen. Larry Martin is looking to change legislation.

Martin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will also be chair of a subcommittee that will be debating a change to the legislation of record, putting in place measures to insure “the public’s right to information,” albeit with some restrictions applied to protect the privacy of individuals.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision, as the FOIA laws read in South Carolina presently, has made autopsy reports inaccessible, Martin explained the problem began long before 2014. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:36 PM

Government transparency doesn't mean much if it is costly to obtain government information.

Michigan's Freedom of Information Act was marred by that obstacle. The law's intent — to make information accessible to the public — was undermined by the officials of government and other public organizations who demanded excessive fees to provide it.

Worse, if members of the public and the press successfully challenged those costs in court, they still came up short. If the fees were overturned, the plaintiffs still were stuck with the legal expenses. The agency that lost the court decision wasn't required to pay the court costs. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:28 PM

A good government is one that responds to the wishes of the public. But the public cannot know how responsive its government is when much of what government does lies outside public view. Hence the need for transparency, the handmaiden of accountability.

A new coalition, Transparency Virginia, has been formed to monitor and improve openness at the state level. It will focus on the sometimes overlooked mechanics: meeting notices, ensuring that all bills get heard, and the recording of votes in committees and subcommittees.

All three are important; the last element deserves special mention. For years the House of Delegates has shanked important legislation — such as that regarding nonpartisan redistricting — in unrecorded subcommittee votes, leaving the public to wonder which members tried to save it and which plunged in the knife. No wonder voters are cynical. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 4:17 PM

Visit a municipal clerk's office and you will likely hear griping about the Open Public Records Act.

"We hate OPRAs here," a Kearny clerk's office employee muttered to a reporter for The Jersey Journal picking up a request for a list of all town salaries.

OPRA, enacted in 2001 by the state Legislature to replace the old Right to Know Law, allows anyone to fill out a form and receive certain public documents within seven business days, usually with the clerk acting as a go-between. Continue>>>
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January 19, 2015 2:53 PM

In September and October of 2014, and December of 2013, several Freedom of Information Act requests were denied by the College of DuPage FOIA Officer. After several failed attempts at asking them to provide the public records they were bound by law to provide, we decided it was time to file suit in DuPage County Circuit Court.

These requests consisted of public records concerning “Broadcast Technologies” and the W-2 Form for COD President Breuder.

The W-2: In spite of the fact that AG Pratt had told me over the phone that she would reconsider the PACs determination, no response was forthcoming after my letter to her. With that in mind, and the desire to review public records we are lawfully entitled to, the below civil suit was filed today, January 15, 2015 in DuPage County Circuit Court. Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:39 AM

It’s secret, and it’s going to stay that way. That’s the bottom line in TVA’s rejection of the News Sentinel’s appeal of a Freedom of Information Act request for information TVA has repeatedly denied.

If the newspaper wants to continue its quest to learn the TVA incentives given to a Clinton, Tenn. industry in expansion mode, it will have to go to court.

TVA’s decision is final, wrote Janet J. Brewer, vice president of communications. The News Sentinel’s last option is to seek “judicial review,” according to her Jan. 8 letter.

At issue is what types of lures TVA dangled before a South Korean company — SL Tennessee — in exchange for its announcement last summer that it was building an $81 million addition to its auto-parts manufacturing complex that officials said will create 1,000 new jobs. Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:37 AM

All North Carolinians deserve to know when their local governments hold special meetings or plan public hearings. State lawmakers have a unique opportunity this year to preserve that right and save cities and counties some money in the process.


When the 2015 regular session begins Wednesday, Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, plans to introduce a compromise bill that will keep public notice requirements in place and limit the fees newspapers charge to publish the announcements. The bill is modeled after legislation passed in Florida and Tennessee.


In the 2013-14 session, local bills to exempt some North Carolina counties from public notice rules were ultimately unsuccessful. Sponsors of those bills said governments should be able to post notices on their own websites instead of publishing them in newspapers. Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:36 AM

The city of Jackson, Michigan, has bold ambitions to make its website the first of its kind in the Great Lakes State to operate as an open data portal.

Unfortunately, city officials announced they’ve hit a slight delay in the process, pushing the expected rollout back at least a month.

"We're kind of struggling to keep our heads above water after the holidays," Jackson City Manager Patrick Burtch said in an interview with MLive.com. "We were going to meet with city employees this week to train them on policies and procedures but pushed it back to next." Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:34 AM

2015 should be the year for open data in California. A new crop of state lawmakers and constitutional officers, combined with activity underway in state and local governments, are pushing California closer to a “tipping point” where the demand and use of data can truly transform the public sector.

Other states – including New York, Texas, Maryland, and Utah – have all jumped on the Open Data bandwagon. In 2014, California cities, including LA and San Diego showed their commitment by hiring chief data officers. At the state level, the California Health and Human Services Agency is -growing its open data offerings, adding departments and data sets to its portal that started last year with public health data. The data-rich portal is essentially a pilot for the rest of state government.

The pioneers are demonstrating that data is a public resource that can stimulate economic investment, inform policy choices, guide public mangers to improve results and deepen citizen involvement in public decisions and community activities. Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:33 AM

On August 1, 2014, the New Jersey Libertarian Party (NJLP) formally petitioned the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) for a rule requiring municipalities and other local government units to specify an “up to” dollar amount in each resolution that awards a public contract.

When Parsippany Focus requested records showing the exact contract amount for Epic Solutions, LLC., Parsippany-Troy Hills responded that the contract “hasn’t been signed by the Administration [and that] could take up to 30 days.” Click here to read the Notice of Action on Petition for Rulemaking.

The Resolution passed by The Township of Parsippany-Troy Hills Council on Tuesday, July 8 by the Parsippany-Troy Hills Council 4-1. Council Vice President Robert Peluso voted against the resolution. Parsippany Focus published an article on July 9, 2014 titled, “Kovalick’s company hired to perform financial consulting services.” Continue>>>
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January 14, 2015 8:32 AM

The city must preserve text messages sent and received in the course of public business as public records under the state Freedom of Information Act, a judge has ruled.

Circuit Judge Jack Doyle made the decision in a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. The order was signed and entered Thursday.

PETA sued the city in January 2014 after it unsuccessfully sought text messages to and from City Council members. The city maintains it did not violate public records law, spokeswoman Lori Crouch said. Continue>>>
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