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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February 4, 2014 4:11 AM

Well, no surprise here. Now that the General Assembly has needlessly weakened the state's Freedom of Information Act, a variety of interest groups want to carve out exemptions to the law for themselves.

In a word, no. Bad idea. The public ought to be able to copy public records and attend public meetings and know what public officials are doing. Residents of Connecticut have given lawmakers no reason to weaken the FOI. The solons shouldn't have done it last year, and they shouldn't do it again.

In the waning hours of the last session, legislators working in secret voted to prevent the disclosure of visual images of homicide victims and some audio recordings collected by police after the Newtown killings of December 2012 and other homicides. Continue >>>
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February 3, 2014 1:13 AM

Conceal Food Stamp Data

A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture cannot keep secret the amount retailers receive for participating in the food stamp program (SNAP).

The case began when the Argus Leader, a South Dakota newspaper, filed a Freedom of Information request about businesses enrolled in the food stamp program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture initially denied the newspaper’s request, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently claimed that the department must comply with the request.

According to the Argus Leader, the newspaper believes that the food stamp data should be transparent for the public. Continue>>>
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fda, FOIA, South Dakota, USDA
February 3, 2014 1:12 AM

Proposals to change the Freedom of Information Act are on the legislative table again this year in addition to the recommendations of the recently-concluded task force on privacy and public disclosure.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, AFT Connecticut and individual lawmakers have proposed bills to the Government Administration and Elections Committee to carve out new exemptions to the state’s public records law.

The suggestions comes a year after lawmakers voted on the last day of the 2013 legislative session to prevent the disclosure of crime scene photographs and certain audio recordings collected by police following the Sandy Hook shooting and other homicides. That law also set in motion a task force which has since drafted its own proposals for changing the FOIA.Continue>>>
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February 3, 2014 1:11 AM

The Obama administration is refusing to divulge how much it spent to build the secret prison facility at Guantánamo where the accused 9/11 co-conspirators are held and has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by a Miami Herald reporter demanding documents that would reveal the number.

In a filing Friday, the Justice Department said that the Pentagon had found just one document that would provide information relevant to a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request reporter Carol Rosenberg filed seeking that cost figure. That document was exempt from disclosure, the filing said, because it contained details of internal deliberations and the names of many officials who were entitled to privacy.

The Justice Department also made a separate secret filing with the court that provided more details on why the document should remain secret. That filing was not shared with Rosenberg's attorneys, and its contents are unknown. Continue>>>
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February 2, 2014 1:12 AM

The city of Belleville (IL) will use a new procedure and web system to handle requests for public records following tension between the mayor and city clerk.

Since the municipal election in April, Mayor Mark Eckert and City Clerk Dallas Cook have been at odds over whose job it is to gather and release public information.

The new rules are meant to clear up any misunderstandings over who is responsible for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests in a timely manner. Continue>>>
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February 2, 2014 1:11 AM

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials never reviewed two key pollution-prevention plans for the Freedom Industries tank farm before the Jan. 9 chemical leak that contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents, according to interviews and documents obtained under the state's public-records law.

Under a DEP-approved water pollution permit for the site, Freedom Industries was required to prepare a storm-water pollution prevention plan and a groundwater protection plan.

Neither plan was among the documents contained in Freedom's permit files at the DEP's Water and Waste Management office, according to copies of those files released last week in response to a Gazette-Mail Freedom of Information Act request. Continue>>>
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January 30, 2014 9:06 AM

Open government data holds great economic promise. But solving the technical hurdles addresses only part of the challenge of bringing the data to market.

Open data advocates tout free government data as one of the world's great resources for fueling innovation and economic growth. However, despite some early successes in helping entrepreneurs turn data into dollars, White House efforts to jump-start an open data economy are taking longer than administration officials had hoped. And some experts worry that not enough attention is being paid to who will pay for hosting and sustaining the coming flood of data.

Those were some of the sobering messages to come out of the Data Innovation forum hosted last week by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation's Center for Data Innovation. Continue>>>
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January 30, 2014 9:05 AM

Creating a state-level unit to monitor open meetings and open records could vastly improve the state’s ability to enforce these important laws.

Spending about $160,000 a year to police compliance to the Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act would be a good investment for the state.

That is the estimated cost of creating a two-person unit within the Kansas Attorney General’s Office to handle complaints related to open meetings and open records. Legislation to create such a unit has been introduced in the Kansas House and has the support of the Kansas Association of Counties and the Kansas Press Association.

Enforcement of these important laws currently is spotty at best. If individuals or media organizations suspect that a government entity has violated the open meetings or open records law, they can take their complaint to a local district or county attorney or file a lawsuit. If the complaining party files a lawsuit, it also must be willing to pay the legal costs associated with that action. That makes it less likely that an individual — or many smaller media outlets — will pursue such an action. Complaints can be taken to a county or district attorney, but those officials may not have the time to investigate the complaint — or may be hesitant to pursue action against county officials who control their budgets. Continue>>>
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January 30, 2014 9:04 AM

"All meetings of a public body shall be open to the public and shall be held in a place available to the general public."

As part of an ongoing study of Ann Arbor’s sanitary sewer system during wet weather, a public meeting will take place next Thursday, Feb. 6, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the Slauson Middle School auditorium. At that meeting, an update will be presented on the study. Also to be discussed at the meeting are results of a recent survey of participants in the city’s footing drain disconnection program.

Government should not be like an open sewer, but it should at least be open.
Government should not be like an open sewer, but it should be open.
Fact: In local government, it doesn’t get any sexier than sanitary sewers.

The study’s full name is the sanitary sewer wet weather evaluation (SSWWE). As background reading, in preparation for next Thursday’s meeting, readers might find it useful to immerse themselves in this recent Chronicle report: “Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps.” That report is centered on a Jan. 9, 2014 meeting of the city’s citizens advisory committee (SSWWE-CAC) associated with the study. Continue>>>
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January 30, 2014 9:03 AM

The Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing a request by an open-government advocate to create a policy for the use of email communications by public officials that is consistent with the Open Public Meetings Act.

The request, made Jan. 23 by John Paff of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project, was prompted by controversy involving email exchanges among four members of the Eatontown Borough Council about a political appointment.

The goal of the Open Government Advocacy Project is to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of government, Paff said.

“There was an OPMA violation, and I wrote that the Monmouth County prosecutor should develop a policy so that officials will know better than to use email as opposed to live meetings to discuss public policy,” Paff said. Continue>>>
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January 30, 2014 9:02 AM

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has pledged to make state government more open to the public and last year his Open Government Task Force submitted eight bills in the 2013 legislative session. The Legislature rejected five of the proposed laws.

One of the proposed laws was one that would make police logs and criminal booking photos public. Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-S.D., has introduced a revised bill this year that would change state law to require law enforcement agencies to release police logs to the public.

Senate Bill 85 maintains the confidentiality of criminal justice information and criminal histories, while allowing legal entities to release the information. However, the bill states: “Information about calls for service revealing the date, time, and general location and general subject matter of the call is not confidential criminal justice information and shall be released to the public” unless the information would jeopardize an ongoing investigation. Continue>>>
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January 30, 2014 9:01 AM

A bill to strengthen the Brown Act, California’s open government law is proceeding in the state legislature. The bill adds to the reasons a district attorney or citizen can petition to void a government act for failure to provide adequate opportunity for public participation. It also provides for higher fines for public officials who try to prevent public access. (Cal Watchdog, January 16, 2014, by Katy Grimes)


Several local agencies in California have been charged with failing to allow the public to know about the actions of their elected representatives. The East Valley Water District Board in San Bernardino County asked the district attorney to investigate a possible Brown Act violation involving the setting of a salary for a new general manager. (Highland Community News, January 28, 2014, by Charles Roberts)


Some Atwater citizens are concerned that there was a meeting of a citizen oversight committee held late last year, unposted and closed to the public, over how to spend money from a recently-passed tax measure to improve public safety. (Merced Sun-Star, January 19, 2014, by Ramona Giwargis). Continue>>>
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