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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October 22, 2014 7:30 PM

So much for transparency. Two top deputies of Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned on creating a new era of government openness, commonly use their personal Gmail accounts to discuss city-related issues, the Daily News has learned.

First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris and director of intergovernmental affairs Emma Wolfe routinely communicate via their private email addresses, according to multiple government insiders. Good-government groups contend that's a behind-the-scenes way to dodge oversight and contrary to the open government de Blasio vowed to run as he campaigned for mayor.

ìPublic officials should use their public emails for public activities,î said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group. As a public advocate, de Blasio published 'transparency report cards' for city departments, concluding many failed to make their records public. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:05 PM

Ever wonder where state legislatures or local politicians get funding for their campaigns and how those funds might influence the polices they create? Common Cause New Mexico Campaign Manager, Heather Ferguson met with Daily News staff Wednesday to talk about the importance of the New Mexico Pledge campaign.

Common Cause New Mexico and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government currently have a New Mexico Pledge campaign aimed at reducing the influence of big-money interests in political campaigns. The educational campaign was launched in September.

"The main goal of the New Mexico Pledge is to both engage and empower New Mexican citizens that there are solutions to their concerns regarding the current state of disclosure and transparency in our state government," Ferguson said, adding, the modern campaign system is broken and prevents elected officials from solving big problems. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:04 PM

I learned many things last Tuesday. A young gentleman proudly told me of a youth-led initiative in Cameroon supporting government reforms by leading regulatory trainings for public healthcare providers. A young woman shared with me her desire to learn how to analyze the budget data her government recently made available. And another gentleman currently working at an NGO in India shared with me how social media has revolutionized the way local governments are responding and enhancing their service delivery.

These are all stories from last week's World Bank Group's Youth Summit 2014: The Need for Open and Responsive Governments. Over 300 young leaders from government, academia, civil society and the international community convened to hear speakers, engage with peers and learn new tools to support their work in promoting open governments. Hundreds more participated through our livestream broadcast and in World Bank offices from Tbilisi, Georgia to San Salvador, El Salvador.

I had the distinct pleasure to chair this year's conference and moderate the first session with Erion Veliaj, minister of social welfare and youth in Albania. He energized the audience by sharing part of his story, the motivations and challenges of entering Albanian politics, and how it's in the best interest of governments to be more transparent as it's the people who hold the voting power. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:02 PM

Rarely is the term 'city hall' considered synonymous with the words 'innovation' or 'efficiency.' Too often, the public image of municipal government is of a static bureaucracy staffed with disinterested clock-watchers focused on petty tasks and arcane processes. But two Harvard authorities on government and technology say it doesn't have to be that way.

In their new book, ìThe Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance,î Stephen Goldsmith, the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and Susan Crawford, the John A. Reilly Visiting Professor in Intellectual Property at Harvard Law School (HLS), offer a road map for managers who want to move beyond the traditional silos of urban government. By embracing the latest tools, like fiber connectivity and predictive data analytics, they posit, the city hall of the future could radically reshape how local government serves its citizens, improving both civic life and trust.

A 'responsive' city is one that doesn't just make ordinary transactions like paying a parking ticket easier, but that uses the information generated by its interactions with residents to better understand and predict the needs of neighborhoods, to measure the effectiveness of city agencies and workers, to identify waste and fraud, to increase transparency, and, most importantly, to solve problems. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 12:00 PM

The names of police officers who are subject to an internal affairs complaint, as well as the names of complainants, cannot be shielded from the public under the state Open Public Records Law, a state judge has ruled.

In the decision, handed down Thursday, state Superior Court Judge Peter Doyne in Bergen County found the Bergen County Sheriff's Office wrongly redacted the information in records provided to John Paff, a self-proclaimed open government activist.

Doyne rejected arguments raised by the county that the information must be kept confidential under internal affairs guidelines established by the state Attorney General's Office, finding that those guidelines have no bearing on the public records law. Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 11:58 AM

The Obama administration has launched a series of open data initiatives to make information across a variety of areas such as health, energy, climate, and public safety more accessible to federal agencies and citizens, a top White House official said.

These projects are an outgrowth of the administration's ongoing Open Government Initiative, which is using open data standards to make the vast amounts of government data more accessible, Nick Sinai, deputy chief technology officer for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, explained at a recent government/industry symposium on data transparency.

To help federal agencies carry out President Obama's May 2013 executive order on open data, the White House's Open Government Initiative website discusses the administration's approach to open data and also provides free code and software to help agencies implement the executive order, Sinai said, adding that these efforts go beyond making data "liquid" at the point of dissemination. "It's really about using information as a strategic asset." Continue>>>
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October 20, 2014 11:57 AM

The identity of a public official who submitted a public comment letter to the Charleston District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been concealed from public view, because otherwise it 'would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.'

That's according to the federal agency, which released a handful of documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act request for materials generated from the public meeting on Hardeeville's RiverPort development.

Among the records was the unnamed official's handwritten letter. The meeting was held Aug. 19 at Hardeeville City Hall as a way for the public to learn about the development's Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and to offer input. Continue>>>
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October 17, 2014 10:02 AM

News Release

October 17, 2014

Contact:  Lara Dieringer, 573-882-4856, DieringerL@missouri.edu

NFOIC FOI training proposal receives Knight Foundation grant

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) has been awarded a $35,000 Knight Prototype Fund grant to create pilot projects aimed at developing open government training modules for public officials and records custodians, particularly in states where open government training is mandated.

The fund, which Knight launched in 2012, encourages the rapid iteration and testing of ideas while providing a support network for the creators. The recipients join a cohort of winners who get the opportunity to receive human-centered design training and to share ideas and concepts with other people experiencing similar opportunities and challenges.

NFOIC’s proposal is to develop a sustainable education and training initiative through digital services including mobile apps and professional support to help state and local governments meet the growing external challenge of public FOI requests and the internal challenge of meeting the mandates of  legislation intended to make government agencies more transparent.

“Our project  is about saving government and residents time and money by reducing the complexity, bureaucracy and cost for carrying out the responsibility of fulfilling FOI requests by improving the management, maintenance, organization and reporting of public information,” said NFOIC president Hyde Post.

The Knight grant is to help the organization develop and test a prototype of their idea. “The Prototype Fund continues to prove itself as an important vehicle for learning and discovering new solutions to information challenges,” said Chris Barr, Knight Foundation director for media innovation, who runs the Prototype Fund.

NFOIC hopes to work with its state and regional affiliate members to establish ongoing training and support with government agencies and groups within those affiliates’ jurisdictions, said Post.

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About NFOIC:  NFOIC is a nonpartisan alliance of state & regional affiliates promoting collaboration, education & advocacy for open government, transparency & freedom of information. Affiliate members include citizen-driven nonprofit freedom of information organizations, academic and First Amendment centers, journalistic societies and attorneys.

October 17, 2014 9:18 AM

Eighteen projects will each receive $35,000 in funding and time to test their media and information ideas as the latest recipients of grants from the Knight Prototype Fund.

The fund, which Knight launched in 2012, encourages the rapid iteration and testing of ideas while providing a support network for the creators. The recipients join a cohort of winners who get the opportunity to receive human-centered design training and to share ideas and concepts with other people experiencing similar opportunities and challenges.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition’s (NFOIC) idea is to develop a project for training state and local government employees and agencies in their open records, open meetings, and freedom of information laws and regulations through a digital services including mobile apps and professional support. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:44 PM

The Department of the Interior's inspector general closed 457 investigations last year -- and released public reports for only three.

The rest largely stayed hidden from public view, with even a redacted list of closed investigations accessible only through the Freedom of Information Act. Among them were cases exposing nepotism, contracting violations and allegations that BP America underpaid its gas royalties by millions of dollars (see related story).

Many of the closed cases were referred back to the relevant agencies, either for further review or for simply informational purposes. But at least 40 prompted some level of IG investigation, according to documents released to Greenwire under FOIA. In a recent interview, acting Inspector General Mary Kendall agreed that more reports should be made public. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:43 PM

Transparency. Open government. Sunshine. Virtually every candidate for elected office embraces these themes while campaigning, promising to minimize government secrecy. It certainly was part of Republican Susana Martinez's successful campaign for governor in 2010. The same was true of Democrat Gary King's successful campaigns for attorney general in 2006 and 2010.

But both Martinez and King, now running against each other for governor, have had clouds over some of their sunshine efforts. Both have been sued for alleged violations of state public records laws.

In one case, news organizations sued Martinez's Human Services Department and the Attorney General's Office for refusing to release a controversial audit of 15 mental health providers. The audit resulted in the companies having their Medicaid funds suspended, forcing some out of business. The agencies have prevailed in court, though at least some of the cases have pending appeals. Continue>>>
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October 16, 2014 11:41 PM

The Indiana Supreme Court's ruling that causes of death are public records and must be available at county levels is a decision worth applauding. That we, as The Tribune's Editorial Board, favor the ruling probably comes as no surprise. As journalists, we vigorously defend the concept of transparency in government. But the unanimous ruling released recently, which reversed the lower courtsí decisions, is one that is in the best interests of all Indiana residents.

The lawsuit at the center of this decision was filed after the Vanderburgh County Health Department denied access to cause of death information in 2012, claiming a 2011 state law restricted such information to those who could prove they had a direct interest in it. But the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that death certificates filed with local health departments are in fact public record, covered under Indiana's Access to Public Records Act.

The high court acknowledged that such public disclosures could be painful for the family and friends of the deceased. It goes on to say that the General Assembly has weighed these competing interests and 'concluded that the public interest outweighs the private.' Continue>>>
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