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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April 25, 2016 6:34 PM

The Montana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Jon Krakauer v. State of Montana and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian.

Investigative journalist and bestselling author Krakauer is seeking records related to the decision to vacate former University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson's expulsion after multiple university proceedings found him guilty of rape.

In 2013, a jury acquitted Johnson of sexual intercourse without consent in Missoula County District Court. The court has scheduled oral arguments Wednesday at Montana State University in Bozeman. An introduction is slated to begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Strand Union Building, Ballroom A. Continue...

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April 25, 2016 6:27 PM

What came through loud and clear at the Wisconsin Watchdog Awards dinner last week was that the true winner in last year's fights over open government issues was you.

Well-deserved awards were given, including the 2016 Distinguished Wisconsin Watchdog Award to attorney Robert Dreps, who has spent his career fighting for the public's right to know.

But as Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, noted Thursday night, a sharp and loud and overwhelming public reaction was the critical element in turning back efforts to deny or limit access to public records. Lueders called that "terrific," (he actually held up a sign that said "terrific") and who can disagree? Continue...

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April 25, 2016 6:24 PM

Police departments participating in the White House’s Police Data Initiative want other agencies to know that there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain from becoming more transparent with their data.

At a gathering hosted by the administration’s Office of Science and Technology Policy at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, several police chiefs from the 53 agencies already working with the White House on the project did their best to demystify the process of posting their policing data online. The initiative is now one year old, and the Obama administration is marking the anniversary with a series of new partnerships to help spur other departments to get involved with the program.

However, the White House also recognized that nothing could help sway other police officials more effectively than the testimony of their peers. Continue...

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April 22, 2016 4:51 PM

The Department of Defense has a lot of problems — a series of wars in Iraq that never seem to fully end, a conflict in Afghanistan that just won’t end, quasi-wars in Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia with no end in sight; a proliferation of terror groups around the globe; and its numerous failed, failing, and scuttled training efforts to create local proxy armies.

And then there’s me.

Last week, the Department of Defense issued its annual “Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer Report to the Department of Justice.” At a cost of roughly $41,449, this study, according to the Defense Department’s chief FOIA officer, Peter Levine, found that “DOD has continued to improve its administration of the FOIA and develop new initiatives to further streamline our FOIA processes and promote openness and transparency.” Continue...

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April 22, 2016 4:47 PM

Ten months ago, three teenaged boys who had escaped from a group home in Brooklyn were arrested for the violent assault and rape of a woman in Manhattan. The boys had been placed in the home as part of a program run by New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, which had been seeking alternatives to formal detention facilities for troubled youngsters caught up in the juvenile justice system.

The home in Brooklyn, one of several dozen overseen by ACS, had been placed on “heightened monitoring status” because of earlier concerns about the home’s ability to keep the youngsters secure and the public safe.

ProPublica soon filed a formal Freedom of Information request to ACS, seeking, among other things, records of any other homes on “heightened monitoring status,” as well as the agency’s database chronicling any arrests or escapes of youngsters and any assaults or injuries suffered by staff or residents at the homes. The aim was straightforward: The records could be critical to gauging the success and public safety impact of the program, known as “Close to Home.” Continue...

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April 22, 2016 4:43 PM

Not all that long ago, a Florida state law told newspapers what they could publish.

A political candidate could have equal space in a newspaper to reply to criticism. It did not matter if the criticism was true and the reply was false. Equal time was the rule on TV. Florida thought it should apply to newspapers.

Jack Knight’s Miami Herald disagreed. So did the U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously. In 1974, in Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. Tornillo, the court overturned the state law. It was a notable example of the newspaper industry standing up not just for the free press, but for the rights of everyone. Continue...

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April 22, 2016 4:38 PM

Despite the push for government dashboards and open data portals, much of the data we use at Reveal still must be obtained through public records requests.

Summary data on government websites often comes from more granular and detailed databases.

But asking for that data can be a challenge because of the technical issues you might face. The first time I requested data from a government agency, I had no idea where to begin. How would I get the appropriate dataset for my story? How could I avoid getting summary or aggregate data or data in PDFs?

Here are some things I learned along the way. Continue...

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April 22, 2016 4:33 PM

The D.C. Housing Authority commissioners have for many months met in secret before their regular meetings, without announcement or records, to discuss a range of topics required by law to be heard in open session.

These findings came to light in an opinion letter issued this week by the District transparency watchdog, Office of Open Government.

The Office in an earlier letter had warned the Authority it faced a lawsuit for not cooperating in the investigation, conduct the Office called “reckless and willful disregard” of the law. That finding was later withdrawn after the agency acknowledged communication failures within its staff and provided necessary documents. Continue...

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April 21, 2016 5:31 PM

An Oklahoma bill to set up a new online portal for open records requests and expand the number of documents available on the state’s open data portal in the process is nearly ready to head to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.

Rep. Josh Cockroft and Sen. Nathan Dahm’s H.B. 3142 passed the Senate last week (after House lawmakers approved it in March), and on Monday, the bill headed back to the House so legislators can consider its amendments. Should they give it the green light, it will need only Fallin’s signature to become law.

The legislation is aimed at creating the “Oklahoma State Government Open Records One-Stop Initiative,” which would charge state Chief Information Officer Bo Reese with developing “OpenRecords.ok.gov” to allow users to request documents electronically under the state’s public records law. Continue...

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April 21, 2016 5:28 PM

The log of public records requests that Vermont law requires the administration to keep up to date went more than a year without updating.

As of Tuesday morning, the Department of Information and Innovation had not updated a log of requests made under the Vermont Public Records Act since March 2015. Additionally, it appears the Shumlin administration never sent an annual report detailing such requests that was due Jan. 15.

The log and the annual report to the Legislature are required under state law, according to the secretary of state’s office. Continue...

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April 21, 2016 5:25 PM

Virginia would not run afoul of federal law or violate death row inmates’ constitutional rights by passing a law allowing the state to obtain lethal injection drugs from secret sources, according to an opinion released late Tuesday by Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

In a 13-page document, Herring responded to a series of Republican and Democratic lawmakers’ questions about a pending death penalty bill that will be a major focus when the General Assembly reconvenes today to take up Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes and amendments.

McAuliffe has recommended allowing the state to obtain execution chemicals from unidentified pharmacies and outsourcing facilities. Continue...

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April 21, 2016 5:21 PM

State and local leaders have been stunned by the fiasco in Flint, Michigan, where city officials switched the water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in order to save money.

That hasty change caused older pipes to leach dangerous levels of lead that contaminated the local drinking water supply.

On Wednesday, April 20, it was announced that as many as four government employees, including the former supervisor of Flint’s water treatment plant, will face criminal charges for actions related to the water crisis. Continue...

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