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 21, 2016 2:39 PM

The Fort Smith School Board has been found in violation of the Freedom of Information Act for a thread of emails among board members that discussed the new slate of officers prior to elections.

Sebastian County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Shue issued a letter to the school board members Nov. 8 stating “after careful review of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and the relevant law, I believe that a violation of the Freedom of Information Act has occurred.”

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November 21, 2016 2:36 PM

The University of Notre Dame's campus police department is not a "public agency" under Indiana law and does not have to provide information about investigations requested by sports media company ESPN, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled in a widely watched case.

The decision, released Wednesday afternoon, means Notre Dame and other private colleges in Indiana with police forces have no obligation to provide details of campus police reports and investigations.

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November 18, 2016 2:02 PM

Yesterday, the NYPD published a massive data set of historic crime data in the City’s open data portal. The data includes 5.5 million criminal complaints that were filed from January 2006 to December 2015, and covers “all valid felony, misdemeanor, and violation crimes reported to the New York City Police Department.” This data release is one of the largest of any kind in recent years, and provides a huge increase in the amount of publicly-available crime data. Previously, the NYPD only published historical information for the “seven major” felonies on the portal. (The 2016 Year-to-Date crimes are in a separate data set.)

Previous to this data release, the NYPD aggregated this data by years and category, or displayed it on the CompStat 2.0 portal, which mapped some crime data, but did not provide open data that the public could analyze or map themselves. Reinvent Albany has been pushing for the release of this data for sometime, and had requested it via a Freedom of Information request in June 2016.

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November 18, 2016 1:55 PM

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 1:45 PM

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 1:42 PM

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 1:39 PM

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 1:35 PM

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 12:20 PM

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 12:17 PM

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 4:03 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 3:59 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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