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

April 2, 2015 12:26 PM

Emails again. We should probably consider this a learning-curve era. Also, we should expect more major and minor scandals and political fights involving public officials and their emails. After all, email has only been around for 40 or so years and in common use for more than 20.

Someday a policy will be worked out that everyone understands.

The latest entry into the email kerfuffle is Gov. Jack Markell. It was revealed in a recent News Journal article that he uses a pseudonym on a state email account. Two open government advocates say he should not and we agree. Continue>>>

April 2, 2015 12:22 PM

Lawmakers stripped an education bill of major proposed changes to Indiana's open records laws on Thursday after concerns were raised about how the measure would impact all government agencies and not just schools.

The legislation aims to simplify school management by eliminating duplicate and obsolete reporting requirements that school administrators say are taking resources away from the classroom. But the legislation also included a provision that would allow government agencies to charge a fee for information that takes longer than two hours to gather.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero, said his colleagues have expressed concerns that the provision would impact all types of state agencies and therefore should be considered as a separate measure, not as part of an education bill. The bill was amended to remove that language during a hearing Thursday in the House Education Committee, which then unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the full House. Continue>>>

April 2, 2015 12:13 PM

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave the green light to the once-dead Insure Tennessee proposal Wednesday.

High praise to those senators who made this significant victory happen. It showed leadership for the citizens of the state of Tennessee.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, pushed for the bill to be heard when the committee considered adjourning and finishing its long agenda another time. Continue>>>

April 1, 2015 12:58 PM

The Freedom of Information Act is one of the crown jewels of the modern American republic. The law, which requires public access to most government documents and communications, has made it significantly easier for Americans and the journalists who inform them to hold government officials accountable.

In a day and age when government gets ever-bigger, FOIA protects Americans from being ruled in secret. Or at least, it does so when officials actually follow the law — which, unfortunately, they often do not.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of private email to conduct State Department business represents just one common method of frustrating the fulfillment of lawful FOIA requests. Another is for the government to charge outrageously high fees for disclosing documents that belong to the public. Continue>>>

April 1, 2015 12:56 PM

Citizens United filed its fourth lawsuit against the State Department on Thursday, this time seeking documents related to the agency's Office of Inspector General during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's tenure.

In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the conservative advocacy group complains that the State Department has not responded to two of its Freedom of Information Act requests in more than six months, beyond acknowledging receiving them. The statutory requirement is 20 business days.

The lawsuit follows the revelation that Clinton exclusively used a personal email account during her time as secretary of state. In December, her office sent 55,000 emails to the department, which the agency is now sorting through. Continue>>>

April 1, 2015 12:46 PM

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, recently sought out information from seven universities pertaining to the funding of professors who allegedly stood in opposition to the “consensus” on climate change and had testified before Congress about climate change.

Grijalva requested information regarding the source of their research grants, as well as copies of the scientists’ financial disclosure forms.

Last week, the University of Delaware refused to provide information on the funding of professor David Legates. Patrick T. Harker, the school’s president, released a letter declaring that, “The University of Delaware chooses not to act in a manner inconsistent with its governing principles.” Continue>>>

April 1, 2015 11:28 AM

Perceived weaknesses in South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act consistently are exploited by government agencies or public officials. Citizens in South Carolina for decades have had to fight efforts to limit their ability to know what state or local governments are doing in the public’s name.

An area receiving increased scrutiny involves government agencies charging excessive fees when asked to produce public records. The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office is coming under criticism for possible violation of the state open records law because it charges fees considered by some to be excessive for public records for 911 call recordings.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office fee rates for producing 911 call recordings were described as “imperious and unlawful” by Jay Bender, a lawyer for the South Carolina Press Association and an expert on this state’s FOIA. Continue>>>

April 1, 2015 11:19 AM

For democracy to work, citizens need to know what their government is up to. Hillary Clinton hid her emails as secretary of state from her citizen bosses. She wanted us to know only what she wanted us to know. Scott Walker hid his emails as Milwaukee County executive, too.

Could both of these presidential candidates have achieved their goals without breaking the rules? It appears so. They broke the rules anyway.

It's a bipartisan effort, this hiding from the public. We battle continually to gain access. This month, we asked to intervene in two court cases: Continue>>>

April 1, 2015 11:18 AM

As former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clintonís use of a personal email account has recently come under scrutiny, Charlottesville Tomorrow has evaluated the email practices of Charlottesvilleís City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

Two of the 11 elected officials on these bodies advertise personal email addresses on their government website, and neither locality has made it a practice to routinely archive communications from personal email accounts.

"Having a government email address is important from an accountability standpoint because it offers immediate accountability," said Megan Rhyne, associate director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government." It's a citizen's right to see what their government is up to." Continue>>>

March 31, 2015 12:04 PM

The kerfuffle over the email policy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to fester. Critics call her use of a private server for official business a contemptuous slap against transparency, while defenders say she is not alone in shielding business-related emails from the public.

#Indeed, the website Politico noted in a recent story that the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t apply to Congress, which means emails by Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — Republicans who are possible presidential candidates, as is Democrat Clinton — are likely to remain closed to public scrutiny.

#To which we say: The terms of this debate are all wrong. The onus shouldn’t be on the public to prove why their elected officials’ correspondence should be open to scrutiny; it should be on the officials to prove why their emails should be off-limits in the first place. Continue>>>

March 31, 2015 12:03 PM

An incredible amount of money ó about $140 billion ó is on the line. Teacher evaluations, tighter ethics laws for lawmakers, higher education and school funding, environmental cleanup money and much more are all getting hashed out behind closed doors in Albany these days.

It is an unseemly, sullied process, rarely leading to the best deal.

Certainly, it is an absolute affront to open government, despite repeated promises from virtually everyone involved to have a more inclusive, open method of passing a budget. Continue>>>

March 31, 2015 12:00 PM

Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law is getting a little cloudy from three dozen bills that, if passed, would create exceptions ranging from not disclosing finalists for top state university and college jobs to exempting addresses and other information on all former and active members of the military.

For average citizens, it means less information on a wide range of issues to which they have had access for at least five decades. That also means less opportunity to have a say in issues or decisions being made that affect them.

Florida's Government in the Sunshine Law — the foundation for later evolution in access to public records, various meetings and prohibitions against secret meetings — was passed by the Florida Legislature in 1967. Continue>>>

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