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, 2016 11:55 AM

Many public contracts are shrouded in secrecy. Government contracting, which involves billions of dollars in public funds each year, has become one of the least transparent systems that state and local governments maintain, according to an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Under the guise of protecting “trade secrets,” state and local governments are withholding critical information about public spending. That allows private entities to claim that some information is proprietary and its disclosure would harm their business.

And it is far from the only way governments and companies keep the public in the dark about government spending.

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November 17, 2016 11:45 AM

The CFOIC presented former Denver Post Editor Greg Moore, 62, with its Jean Otto Friend of Freedom Award, which recognizes a person for sustained and/or significant contributions to open government and First Amendment causes in Colorado. The award honors the legacy of Jean Otto, a long-time editor at the Rocky Mountain News who founded the CFOIC in 1987.

During his 14 years as editor of The Post, the newspaper won four Pulitzer Prizes, most recently for its coverage of the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting. At Moore’s insistence, CFOIC President Steve Zansberg said, The Post led the media consortium assembled to seek maximum access to the court case. It was the only news organization to seek copies of notes kept by the killer’s psychiatrist – notes shown to the jury but not to the public.

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November 17, 2016 11:42 AM

While much media attention is focused on federal government secrecy, secretive practices of state and local governments often get less scrutiny but frequently have a more immediate impact on communities.

There are no definitive national studies of the scope of state and local secrecy, but the studies, surveys and anecdotal evidence that do exist strongly suggest state and local government secrecy has increased in the past 10 years. While there are many reasons for this, it has coincided with a decline in local news coverage, technological advances that governments haven’t been able to afford and an increase in outsourcing of government functions to private entities.

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November 17, 2016 11:39 AM

The Missouri State Auditor's office has discovered poor compliance with the state's sunshine law, Auditor Nicole Galloway announced Tuesday.

"My office regularly receives complaints related to access of public information, which is exactly what the sunshine law is designed to address," Galloway said. "For this report, we sent public records requests to hundreds of local governments across the state. The results were extremely disappointing and demonstrate that we have a long way to go in improving transparency and citizen access to information in Missouri government."

The 56-page report showed that only 30 percent of local governments fully complied with transparency laws. Galloway's staff sent open records requests to 309 government entities chosen at random without identifying themselves as auditors.

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November 17, 2016 11:35 AM

The New England First Amendment Coalition is seeking applications for its 2017 Antonia Orfield Citizenship Award. The deadline is January 15, 2017.

The award is given to an individual from one of the six New England states who has fought for information crucial to the public’s understanding of its community or what its government is doing — or not doing — on its behalf. The candidate should have shown tenacity or bravery in the face of difficulty while obtaining information that the public has a right to know.

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November 16, 2016 10:20 AM

Boulder will take part in a national effort to help cities exchange best practices regarding the use of data to improve municipal government.

The effort is called What Works Cities, and it's initiative of ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group Bloomberg Philanthropies.

What Works Cities launched in April 2015 as a way to help midsize cities — defined as having populations between 100,000 and 1 million — "enhance their use of data and evidence to improve services, inform local decision-making and engage residents."

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November 16, 2016 10:17 AM

A west Georgia court is jailing people illegally and then making it impossible for them to challenge the violation of their rights by denying them access to their public court records, a lawsuit alleges.

The Southern Center for Human Rights filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of two poor women who were recently jailed after appearing in Recorder's Court in Columbus, about 105 miles southwest of Atlanta near the Alabama border. It says the women want to challenge their convictions and probation revocations, but are unable to access court files their attorneys need to properly investigate or decide on a course of action.

The lawsuit calls the Columbus Recorder's Court "a troubled and dysfunctional institution whose judges and clerks routinely disregard the rights of defendants, including indigent citizens."

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November 15, 2016 2:03 PM

A Cook County judge this week set a rolling schedule for the Chicago Police Department to release documents related to fatal police-involved shootings going back to Jan. 1, 2011.

Monday’s decision from Circuit Judge Kathleen G. Kennedy builds off a Sept. 16 ruling which ordered CPD to release the records — including audio and video recordings — the Better Government Association sought in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Kennedy’s order requires the police department to produce the records on a rolling basis “for each investigative file as the review is completed.”

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November 15, 2016 1:59 PM

The New England First Amendment Coalition, a leading voice in the region for the protection of press freedoms and access to public records, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

A small group of journalists formed NEFAC in 2006 to address a common donateproblem: a disturbing trend toward restricted access to public records and government meetings. Secrecy was becoming the norm. Veteran reporters found it difficult to learn about government and feared the task of doing so was near impossible for private citizens. So they created a nonprofit to help broaden access to public records and open meetings.

Today NEFAC is governed by an active, all-volunteer board of more than 30 reporters, editors, publishers, attorneys and media professionals.

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November 15, 2016 1:53 PM

The government serves the people of Oklahoma and the law says the people have a right to know how and why the government makes its decisions.

“That means being able to look at records and if we see government doing something we don't think it ought to be doing, reacting to that and that means at the ballot box,” said Brady Henderson, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma. The ACLU of Oklahoma is representing two groups suing Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin for failing to provide records under the Oklahoma Open Records Act.

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November 14, 2016 12:07 PM

In one of the biggest legal battles over government transparency in New Jersey, the state Supreme Court is poised to determine how much information the public receives in the hours and days after police officers use fatal force.

A key question in the case is whether law enforcement agencies must release records that name police officers who use fatal force in the line of duty. Another is whether dashboard-camera videos of such incidents are public or confidential.

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November 14, 2016 12:06 PM

The Mississippi Supreme Court will consider a dispute over public access to records from a state agency.

The dispute started in late 2012, when the Sun Herald requested records from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

After the newspaper made its request, state Auditor Stacey Pickering subpoenaed the same documents and took possession of them. Pickering's staff said the records were part of an investigative file and could not be released.

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