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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September 19, 2014 9:31 AM

Despite having a new criminal subpoena in hand, Gov. Pat Quinn's administration dragged its feet in releasing the politically-sensitive public document -- a delay one expert called a gaming of the state open-records laws that 'stinks'.

On Tuesday, the governor's office finally released the federal grand jury subpoena dated Aug. 27 that sought records related to Quinn's failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative anti-violence program, but it did so only selectively.

After the end of business on Sept. 3, the Chicago Sun-Times submitted an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request seeking ìany state or federal subpoenasî received by the governorís office dating back to Aug. 1, a time period that covered the latest query from the U.S. attorney's office. Continue>>>
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September 17, 2014 2:03 PM

Today the group "Progress Michigan" plans to release documents they say shows conversations between Governor Rick Snyder's office and the Department of Corrections.

Group members say they obtained more than 100 pages through the "Freedom of Information Act." Governor Rick Snyder has been under pressure to end the state's contract with Aramark.

The company provides food services to prisons and is under fire after reports of maggots near the food, inadequate staffing and improper relations with inmates. Continue>>>
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September 17, 2014 2:02 PM

Our View: Public officials need to respect the freedom of access granted by the Oklahoma Open Records Act and honor their duty to fulfill such requests.

Freedom of Information laws are intended to allow the public access to records they have rights to review and posses. Additionally, the laws encourage bureaucratic transparency and accountability. These laws exist to ensure freedom of access to records and meetings that are public information. Naturally, we become suspicious when public officials try to skirt Freedom of Information laws and obscure requests.

We take violations of the Open Records Act seriously and the law does too. Sadly, the law is rarely enforced. In the eyes of the law violating the Oklahoma Open Records Act is a misdemeanor carrying a possible one-year jail sentence and $500 fine ó nearly the exact same sentence people arrested for marijuana possession receive. While people are arrested all the time for smoking pot, Freedom of Information violators are almost never punished for their crime. Continue>>>
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September 17, 2014 2:01 PM

Republican Attorney General Candidate John Cahill criticized Attorney General Eric Schneiderman during a press conference in Albany last week for refusing to disclose information provided by his political consultants.

The allegations were made specifically in regards to communications with Jennifer Cunningham, managing director at the communications firm SKDKnickerbocker ó Schneiderman's former wife. During her heyday as a successful lobbyist, Cunningham played a decisive role during Schneiderman's 2010 campaign for AG by garnering support from major organizations.

"Schneiderman is conferring a phony status to his consultants in order to justify withholding communications with them and he needs to come clean about it," Cahill said. Continue>>>
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September 17, 2014 1:59 PM

Last month I received some great news. A report titled ìState Open Data Policies and Portalsî was released by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Data Innovation and ranked Oklahoma as one of the top six top-scoring states for its open data policies.

This is just the latest in a series of national recognitions of the transparency advancement for which we have spent years working toward.

According to the report, state governments can show their commitment to open data in two principal ways: by establishing open data policies and by creating open data portals. Open data policies specify what data the government will publish and how it will do so. Open data portals bring data from multiple government agencies onto a single website. The reported ranked Oklahomaís open data policy and portal and placed us in a tie for first place in the nation. Continue>>>
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September 17, 2014 1:58 PM

Newspapers, government watchdog groups and open government advocates across the state of Georgia have cheered the recent decision of Forsyth County Superior Court requiring the city of Cumming and its mayor, Henry Ford Gravitt, to shell out $6,000 each for violations of the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

The prosecution of the city and mayor has been extolled as a victory for Attorney General Sam Olens. It has been a a victory for the blogger, Nydia Tisdale, whose rights to video tape a city council meeting were abridged.

The case has also been styled a win for open government activists. Newspapers, such as The Valdosta Daily Times, see it as great news for those of us who take our roles as the Fourth Estate of government seriously. This battle and victory, however, in reality is a win for the people of Georgia. Continue>>>
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September 17, 2014 1:57 PM

Data.gov has taken open source to heart. Beyond just providing open data and open source code, the entire process involves open civic engagement. All team ideas, public interactions, and new ideas (from any interaction) are cross-posted and entered in Github. These are tracked openly and completed to milestones for full transparency. We also recently redesigned the website at Data.gov through usability testing and open engagement on Github.

Today, I want to share with you just five of the hundreds of applications that have been developed by the public using open government data. These are examples of the kind of apps, visualizations, and analyses that are created from working with developers, educators, and businesses on a specific challenge at events that pull the community together, like data jams, meetups, and conferences.

Archimedes

Archimedes makes tools that give quantitative models to doctors and patients so that they can find effective interventions, predict how interventions will affect an individualís health risk, and help decision-makers analyze health outcomes. These quantitative models are key to improving medicine and optimizing treatments by enabling more effective individualized medicine rather than general guidelines. Archimedesí products use federal open data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; trial datasets from the National Institutes of Health such as the Framingham Heart Study; and Medicare datasets. Continue>>>
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apps, Github, oped data
September 17, 2014 1:55 PM

South Carolina's top cop asked legislators Tuesday to ensure that agents who investigate child deaths continue to have access to records like autopsy reports and birth certificates, saying he hopes a recent court ruling won't change that.

"There is no higher mission than the protection of our children," State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel told a special Senate panel Tuesday. "This is paramount to the department's ability to continue to fulfill its purpose and duties."

Keel testified before the Senate's Freedom of Information Act Study Committee. During its first meeting, the panel discussed the effects of two recent rulings that deal with interpreting the state's FOI law. Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 2:00 PM

A Philadelphia-based law firm says that the National Transportation Safety Board's current method of releasing plane crash data and information unfairly favors airplane and component manufacturers at the expense of victims and their families, according to a Freedom of Information Act suit filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Attorneys at the Wolk Law Firm, located on Locust St. in Philadelphia, submitted the FOIA on behalf of several plaintiffs looking for more details surrounding various fatal plane crashes that occurred in the last few years.

The complaint says that the NTSB relies on the expertise of the manufacturers to interpret certain data before releasing it to the plaintiffs, sometimes denying requests based on those recommendations. This method creates a conflict of interest, the complaint says, because many times the manufacturers are named defendants in the suits, and receive the opportunity to review and alter possible incriminating evidence. Continue>>>
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airplane crash, FAA, NTSB
September 16, 2014 1:58 PM

A recent Illinois appellate court decision should remind government entities that charging a fee for a FOIA request should not be assessed without due care. In Sage Information Services v. Suhr, 2014 IL App (2d) 130708, the plaintiffs requested "a copy, on CD or similar electronic media, of the current real property assessment record file for the entire county, together with an electronic copy of the sales file" from the Supervisor of Assessments.

The requestor asserted that under section 6(a) of the FOIA, the defendant could charge no more than the cost of the disc. However, the defendant responded that the plaintiff would have to pay $6,290.45 (five cents per parcel) to obtain the records, relying on section 9-20 of the Property Tax Code.

The parties disagreed on which statute governs how much the defendant should charge for electronic records. Defendant asserted that the governing statute was section 9-20 of the Property Tax Code, which provides that, "In all counties, all property record cards maintained by...the chief county assessment officer shall be public records.... Upon request and payment of such reasonable fee established by the custodian, a copy or printout shall be provided to any person." 35 ILCS 200/9-20. The plaintiff contends the governing statute is section 6(a) of the FOIA, which provides, "When a person requests a copy of a record maintained in an electronic format, the public body shall furnish it in the electronic format specified by the requester, if feasible.... A public body may charge the requester for the actual cost of purchasing the recording medium, whether disc, diskette, tape, or other medium... Except to the extent that the General Assembly expressly provides, statutory fees applicable to copies of public records when furnished in a paper format shall not be applicable to those records furnished in an electronic format." 5 ILCS 140/6(a). Continue>>>
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FOIA fees, illinois
September 16, 2014 1:55 PM

After sifting through the 123 pages provided to me by the Evansville (IN) Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) in response to a Freedom of Information Request concerning grants and loans in the Haynieís Corner and downtown areas, I must admit that I am mystified. There were apparently no grants of any kind given in the target areas between 1999 and 2004, as none are shown in that time period. I only find records of two facade grants, each in the amount of $5,000, given in the area during that ten years. I have doubts that is the whole story, but in defense of DMDís long-suffering staff, I can certainly see how a perfectly legitimate oversight could occur in providing the information I asked for. I have reason to believe that there were several relatively small grants given to businesses in the target area over the past decade, to generally ìspruce upî the curb appeal of the area. I will be delving further into the facade grant program with another Freedom of Information Act Request specific to that program to be filed before the close of business on Friday of this week.

There are, however, records of grants in the area that deserve mention. The largest is for a perennial favorite among City County Observer readers. It is in the amount of $800,000 to Centre City Development of Indianapolis, toward the renovation of the McCurdy Hotel into luxury apartment units. We all know how that turned out. The date on the grant is October 2, 2007 and the McCurdy may have deteriorated beyond salvation since the ìgiftingî took place. We continue to hear occasional rumors of interest on the part of new developers, one as recently as about a month ago.

The Alhambra has been the recipient of $196,000 in gifts from DMD in December of 2010, most of which went for HVAC and structural repairs. The old movie theatre, with its minarets, has always been a fascinating piece of architecture for preservationists, and has been an on-going object of various private and public community fund-raising drives. It currently serves as a gallery and is an attraction for the area. The adjoining ìSculpt EVVî project, was carried out by USI. It was a two year project that began in September of 2011. There are several pieces of outdoor sculpture on vacant lots that add to the ìArts Districtî atmosphere that is being created for the block. On a recent visit to the area, I observed that all of the houses left on that block of Adams Avenue were displaying For Sale signs, most "by owner". Continue>>>
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September 16, 2014 1:53 PM
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU) has issued a plea to the US government to open records about the drugs used in executions in the state of Pennsylvania.
 
"The ACLU of Pennsylvania, on behalf of four newspapers, including the Guardian, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Philadelphia City Paper, has asked a federal judge to unseal court records that contain information about the source of the drugs used for lethal injections in Pennsylvania", a statement published on the union's website Thursday said, adding, "The first execution in 15 years in the commonwealth could occur as soon as September 22. The newspapers seeking this information argue that keeping that information under seal violates their First Amendment rights."
 
The ACLU stated that because the Federal Drug Administration-approved version of the starting drug for execution, pentobarbital, is not sold to correction departments, states can only purchase them from a compounding pharmacy through a special order. But since there is less control exercised over compounding pharmacies than on pharmaceutical companies, the ACLU doubts the substances that the compounded drugs contain. Continue>>>
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