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 25, 2013 9:56 AM

From Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition: With a proposed property tax increase on the November ballot, Conifer resident Melody Mesmer thought that residents of the Elk Creek Fire Protection District ought to know how much district employees have been paid over the last few years in salary and overtime.

But even though such information is public under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA), the fire district isn’t handing it over.

Elk Creek denied Mesmer’s request because the compensation information she seeks is mingled in payroll records with Social Security numbers and other confidential data. Unlike open-records laws in some other states and the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the law in Colorado does not explicitly require – nor does it encourage – records custodians to redact private information from records and then release portions that are public (except under a very few circumstances).

“I’m just insanely frustrated that I can’t get a public record,” Mesmer says. She wonders why a district with just nine paid employees cannot – or will not – give her year-end payroll reports with confidential information blacked out. “I’ve seen emails (redacted) that way. If they need a buck-fifty for their time with a marker, I’m happy to pay it.”

It’s not that simple or inexpensive, says Richard Toussaint, attorney for the Elk Creek district. Year-end payroll reports, which are produced for the district by an outside vendor, show multiple deductions and other points of private information for each monthly pay period. “There isn’t just one line in there that says what the (employee’s) pay is for the year.”

The district did provide Mesmer with salary and overtime data for volunteers who are compensated for battling fires in other parts of the state because “that one was simple to redact,” Toussaint notes. “This other one was definitely going to take some time,” and district officials also worried that they might mistakenly release something confidential.

The bottom line for Mesmer is that redacting the payroll records she requested would require more effort than the district, which has one administrative employee, is willing put forth. “That’s what the AG said,” Toussaint says. “You don’t have to do it if it’s a ton of work.”

[...]

Many governments routinely release public-employee compensation data and some, like the state of New Jersey, even publish it online. Why is it in the public’s interest to know how much government employees are paid? In these days of straining government budgets and underfunded public pensions, it doesn’t take much research to find newspaper stories with headlines like this: “Public pension ‘spiking’: Overtime hours soar for St. Paul fire supervisors.”

Visit Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition for more.

Jeffrey Roberts is the executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 24, 2013 3:11 PM

From The Virginia Gazette: WILLIAMSBURG - Although it will come after November's elections, the Virginia Coalition for Open Government's annual conference will explore "Gifts, Disclosure and the Virginia Way," according to a release.

The day-long conference will be held at the Williamsburg Community Building in early December.

The conference will feature three panels, including "Lax: Are Virginia's Laws as Bad as They Say?" featuring Center for Responsive Politics Director Sheila Krumholz, political observer Vivian Paige and the Center for Public Integrity Managing Editor Gordon Witkin. Bob Lewis of the Associated Press was also listed in the release.The second panel, "The Virginia Way: Time for a New Path?" features Vectre Corporation President Benson Dendy, Open Virginia founder Waldo Jaquith, political observer Gordon Morse and Virginia Press Association Director Ginger Stanley.

The final panel, "Reform: What Does the Future Hold?" features Stars & Stripes Ombudsman Ernie Gates, Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University Director Quentin Kidd, Bearing Drift's Brian Schoneman and Virginian-Pilot state government reporter Julian Walker.

The featured lunch-time speaker is Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. chief technology officer and Virginia secretary of technology, whose talk will address open data and government technology.

The private nonprofit will also present its annual open government awards. The coalition is a nonprofit alliance formed to promote expanded access to government records, meetings and other proceedings at the state and local level.

The conference will be held 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, in the Williamsburg Community Building. Registration costs $30 for members and $40 for non-members. Please visit www.opengovva.org/access-2013-registration to registrate.

Visit The Virginia Gazette for more.

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 24, 2013 3:01 PM

From Watchdog.org: A special committee ordered by President Obama to review the legality of the National Security Agency’s spying programs will not be subject to government transparency laws.

The president created the NSA review group in August and publicly promised it to be an “independent review” of NSA programs revealed by leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden. Obama promised that the committee would be a “high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”

Visit Watchdog.org for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:56 PM

From Reuters: Next week, the Summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) will be held in London. Established in 2011, under American and Brazilian leadership, the OGP is a group of 60 countries, including the US, the UK, Brazil and 6 African countries (Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania) that have made a commitment to work with civil society to promote more transparency, participation and accountability. In its first year OGP achieved a staggering amount and has continued its impressive record into 2013.

ONE has been an enthusiastic supporter and a constructive critic of the OGP right from the start. We supported the New York launch in 2011 and in 2012, we attended the OGP Summit in Brazil , and worked to shape the UK’s National Action Plan, encouraging the UK Government to realise Prime Minister Cameron’s ambition of making the UK government the most transparent and open in the world. In 2013, we began to engage with African governments, encouraging them to take advantage of the opportunity provided by the OGP.

Visit Reuters for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:41 PM

From NJ.com: In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revised its operational guidelines known as the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. Under the new marching orders, the document allowed agents to engage in limited racial and ethnic profiling when assessing criminal and terroristic threats.

The new guidelines, though, put the American Civil Liberties Union on alert. The group feared the revised guidelines would encourage FBI agents to unlawfully racially profile people, and so it ultimately launched a series of coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests aimed at gathering FBI records on its use of ethnic and racial data.

Visit NJ.com for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:37 PM

From Courthouse News Service: (CN) - President George W. Bush's presidential directive on cybersecurity is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, a federal judge ruled.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center had filed the FOIA request in June 2009, seeking information related to National Security Presidential Directive 54.

Visit Courthouse News Service for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:34 PM

From Al Jazeera America: While much has been made of the government's current penchant for secrecy, few have noticed that this atmosphere now shrouds government history as well.

Working on a biography of a noted Washington journalist, I placed a routine Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2011 for her FBI file. The timing of my application seemed propitious. Two years earlier, President Barack Obama had signed an executive order to speed declassification of materials and had issued an encouraging FOIA memorandum.

Visit Al Jazeera America for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:27 PM

From The Tennessean: It has always troubled me that ignorance of the law can be used as a legal defense for not complying with the Tennessee Public Records Act.

That absurdity came back a few weeks ago when The Hendersonville Star News reported on a brouhaha that had been raging for months between Hendersonville city officials and a group of local residents. The issue was whether (and how much) the city could charge to produce copies of public records.

Visit The Tennessean for more.

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October 24, 2013 2:05 PM

From Cleveland.com: COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a person granted a pardon by the governor is not automatically entitled to have the records of their crime and conviction sealed from public view.

Rather, absent requirements in Ohio’s law that it be granted automatically, it should be evaluated on a case by case basis to determine if it is appropriate, the court ruled.

Visit Ceveland.com for more.

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October 24, 2013 1:58 PM

From Bloomberg: Delaware’s Chancery Court, the country’s leading venue for securities litigation, can’t be used for secret arbitration proceedings in business disputes, a federal appeals court ruled.

The arbitration program set up by the state, which allowed publicly funded judges to make decisions behind closed doors on business cases, violates the public’s constitutional right to access to the courts, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Wednesday in a 2-1 decision.

[...]

More than a year ago, U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin in Philadelphia ruled that Delaware’s secret arbitration proceedings were similar enough to conventional civil trials that the secret proceedings violated the public’s right of public access to the courts under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government, a citizen watchdog group, challenged the use of “state-empowered judges” to hear evidence and hand down decisions in secret. Media outlets including the New York Times (NYT), Associated Press and Bloomberg News filed court papers supporting the challenge.

[...]

The case is Delaware Coalition for Open Government Inc. v. Strine, 12-3859, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Philadelphia). The lower court case is Delaware Coalition for Open Government Inc. v. Strine, 11-cv-01015, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

Visit Bloomberg for more.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 24, 2013 1:44 PM

From TribTown.com: KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — A judge has ruled that the Knoxville News Sentinel should have access to Knox County emails it requested under the state's open records law.

The newspaper reports Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan ruled on Tuesday that nine of the 13 emails in question were public record and the county should release them.

Visit TribTown.com for more.

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October 24, 2013 12:18 PM

From Digital Journal: Seattle, WA (PRWEB) October 22, 2013 - Court Records is a new background check website that provides people with thousands of online court records. These court records cover everything from the addresses and full names of the plaintiffs, attorneys and defendants, to the specific US statute violation in question and final judgment of a case. In addition, on this website, people will discover how to understand the way the court systems in the United States are organized, and how to know where to look and what to expect to find at each level court. Furthermore, people will find out a detailed overview of the US court system organization, and full information on every level of court system. Moreover, the website also introduces some main types of court records such as criminal court records, civil court records, and state court records. After the Court Records website was launched, a lot of customers have used it to get a criminal background check easily. Consequently, the website Vkool.com completed a full overview about the effectiveness of the Court Records website.

A full overview of Court Records on the site Vkool.com indicates that this website takes people step-by-step through the process of discovering 5 types of courts such as county courts, courts of appeals, bankruptcy courts, state courts, and district courts. The website also provides people with a lot of tips on court records searches, and 20-year address history with details and phone numbers. In addition, on this website, people will get a people search engine that helps them find US public records, and carry out a full criminal check about felonies, misdemeanors and sex offenses. Furthermore, people also discover all the basics of the United States court record keeping system, and the reasons why they have to perform a court records search. Moreover, when becoming members of this website, people will be able to search court records of many areas such as Alabama, Nevada, California, Ohio, Florida, Washington, and Texas.

Visit Digital Journal for more.

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