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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May 12, 2014 9:52 AM

The open government movement has become super-charged over the last year. Largely in part to the people and organizations on the front lines. At the 2013 Code for America Summit held in San Francisco, California, I got a chance to speak with some of the people who are volunteering their time, finding better ways to make government work for us, and bridging the gap for citizens to access and participate in their government.

I asked them some questions to gather insight into why we’re experiencing more interest in civic hacking and civic participation. I also wanted to hear from Code for America brigade captains and fellows as well as civic community leaders to get a better understanding of what makes a great Code for America project.

Next, I focused on how these folks strive to create a culture of innovation in government both great and small. They shared some excellent wisdom with me. Like, Chase Wilson, from Code for Kansas City: he says the three keys to successful government innovation are hunger, awareness, and permission. Or, like, Abhi Nemani, from Code for America, who advises citizens to just keep asking questions. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2014 9:50 AM

It's Open Government Week at Opensource.com, and the Sunlight Foundation is celebrating by bringing amazing people and projects together in open government, open data, and civic hacking. Join like-minded folks at TransparencyCamp in Washington D.C. on May 30 and 31.

TransparencyCamp has brought together hundreds of people to share their knowledge about how to use new technologies and develop policies to make our government really work for the people—and to help people work smarter with our government.

TransparencyCamp is the Sunlight Foundation's premier event to discuss and share new approaches to making government more open, transparent, and accountable. Join other technologists, government officials, journalists, policy-makers, students, and impassioned citizens from across the country and around the world for two days of new ideas, technologies, and initiatives. Learn more about local government projects like CityCamp, CrisisCommons, and hundreds of others that you could take back to your city. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2014 9:48 AM

For decades Vermont has been at the bottom of the list of states for the public’s right to know the truth about government operations, records and meetings.

Two years ago, with the strong support of Gov. Peter Shumlin, Secretary of State Jim Condos and others, the Legislature passed a new public records law that improved public access to government documents. Since then, the state has seen steady improvements in its rankings for open government.

The time has come to make similar improvements in the second area of government operations — the public’s right to know what local and state boards are doing when they meet, sometimes improperly behind closed doors. A bill, H.497, that has now passed the House and Senate tries to address open meetings; but it also contains some fatal flaws. Continue>>>
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FOIA, transparency, Vermont
May 12, 2014 9:47 AM

Short of rewriting the Virginia Constitution, there is no better way to recast the relationship between citizens and state government than overhauling the Freedom of Information Act. The law enables oversight of officials who operate on the people's behalf, spends public money and should be subject to scrutiny.

Last month, officials began a thorough review of the legislation, looking for ways to streamline it and improve how it functions for the public. We applaud the commitment to this long-overdue effort but we cannot help but be disappointed in its backwards approach, which will review the law as it exists rather than starting with a clean slate.

When the Founding Fathers crafted the Constitution, they constructed a document which limited the size of government. This perspective intended to reserve all additional rights to the states and citizens, narrowing the federal scope to only specifically enumerated powers. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2014 9:46 AM

Forty-two Mingo County (pop. 26,103) employees drive vehicles that are owned by the county, according to information resulting from one in a series of Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Daily News.

After being required to file an FOIA request to receive the hourly salaries of all county employees, the paper was again required to file FOIA requests for the names of all employees who are issued a county-owned vehicle to drive, as well the use of a county gas card.

The expense of the purchase of county-owned vehicles, insurance, general maintenance and repairs are the sole responsibility of the county commission and are paid for with taxpayer dollars. So is the monthly Fleet Gas Car bill. An exact amount of what these costs totaled in 2013 was not available at presstime. Continue>>>
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May 12, 2014 9:44 AM

Fort Smith Police Chief Kevin Lindsey and two other officers named in an Arkansas Whistle Blower lawsuit must do more to comply with discovery requests from the plaintiffs, a judge ruled Friday.

The 42-page complaint claims Bales, Sampson and Entmeier were retaliated against with “a variety of baseless claims” for “communicating to the proper authority (e.g. Defendant Lindsey) suspected violations of policy and law in Addisen Entmeier’s (Rick Entmeier’s son) termination.” The complaint also alleges Sampson was additionally targeted for communicating suspected overtime irregularities in the dispatch center by Haney and his wife Emily Haney, a former dispatcher.

Emily Haney’s internal investigation was closed as not sustained on July 1, 2011. She resigned from the department July 26, 2011. Circuit Court Judge James Cox held a hearing Friday on the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit and Campbell’s motion to compel discovery requested by his clients. Continue>>>
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May 8, 2014 7:16 AM

New York's highest court Tuesday ordered that the names of retired teachers, police officers and other government workers be released publicly in a case that tested the power of the state Freedom of Information Law.

In the unanimous decisions, the Court of Appeals decided it was not an invasion of privacy to identify retirees benefitting from the state's various pension systems for public workers. The court, however, said the addresses of the individuals shouldn't be made public.

Tuesday's decision is a win for the Empire Center for New York State Policy, which is a fiscally conservative think tank that researches spending of taxpayer money and fiscal policies of governments. "Today's decision is a huge win for the public's right to know," said Timothy Hoefer, the Empire Center's executive director. Continue>>>
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May 8, 2014 7:15 AM

A conservative think tank is alleging the White House is skirting transparency laws by allowing President Barack Obama’s science adviser to use a private email account to conduct government business.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has sued the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to produce the work-related emails of its director, John Holdren, that were sent from a private email account and thus hidden from the Freedom of Information Act and archiving laws.

The lawsuit alleges that Holdren used an email account from his former employer Woods Hole Research Center, an environmental advocacy group. Continue>>>
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May 8, 2014 7:13 AM

How do the federal courts define who is a legitimate "representative of the news media"? According to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, that's "any person or organization which regularly publishes or disseminates information to the public."

But does a nonprofit watchdog group that advocates and litigates on behalf of the public's right to know what the government is doing also qualify as a representative of the news media?

That's the issue at the heart of yet another federal legal case that sheds disturbing new light on how things are in "the most transparent administration in history." Continue>>>
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May 8, 2014 7:12 AM

Last week, in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by Judicial Watch, the White House released a memo related to Benghazi that was authored by Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communication. The four-page memo, written a few days after the attacks, was designed to prep Susan Rice for her upcoming appearances on several Sunday talk shows. Among other things, it addressed the anti-American protests that had first sprung up in Egypt and then spread throughout the Middle East, including this line as one of the goals of her appearances:

"To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy."

Republicans say this is a "smoking gun" of a White House cover-up on Benghazi. But is it? Here are 10 things you should know: Continue>>>
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May 8, 2014 7:11 AM

Four pieces of legislation that could increase transparency in government and strengthen Delaware's Freedom of Information Act were filed by Democratic lawmakers Tuesday.

The bills tackle posting of meeting minutes, mailed FOIA requests, publishing of annual reports and require an annual seminar for the state's FOIA coordinators.

Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark, said in a press release that the bills collectively will strengthen the First State's FOIA statute and improve citizen access to public information. Continue>>>
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May 8, 2014 7:09 AM

Hilton Head Island businessman Skip Hoagland scored big last month when a circuit court judge ruled that the Town of Hilton Head Island could not charge for the time it will take town staff to comply with a subpoena Hoagland has filed, seeking documents. The ruling means Hoagland will only have to pay the cost of copying roughly 4,800 pages of town documents he has requested, including accounting details, spending records and contract bids.

It's good for all parties involved and the community at large to finally have a decision on the front. For too long, it has been unclear what activities local governments could charge for and how much they could charge when the public and media request information.

Now, a ruling is needed on the bigger issue that Hoagland has raised -- whether chambers of commerce, including the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce -- are public bodies and therefore required to follow the state's Freedom of Information Act. The open-records law ensures that the public and the press get a look into the workings of their government. Continue>>>
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