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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January 13, 2017 11:47 AM

State regulators and an organization that proposes workers’ compensation coverage rates in Florida defended themselves in pleadings to a state appeals court this week, seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that they had violated open-government laws.

Attorneys for the National Council on Compensation Insurance, or NCCI, submitted their arguments in a brief filed Wednesday with the 1st District Court of Appeal. The state office of Insurance Regulation is also a party to the suit, filed by Miami workers’ compensation attorney James Fee.

“The trial court’s order is flawed in numerous respects, fails to follow decades of binding precedent, ignores the plain language of relevant Florida statutes, and makes factual findings that lack record support and are directly contrary to the uncontradicted evidence,” the brief says.

“Florida’s Sunshine Law applies only to boards or commissions of governmental entities,” the document says. “NCCI is a private corporation, not a governmental entity, and no governmental entity has delegated the performance of its public, rate approval purpose to NCCI.” Continue…
 

January 13, 2017 11:45 AM

A long-running legal battle over the governor’s decision to deny a 2014 open-records request was resolved in Pence’s favor by a three-judge panel.

By a 2-1 vote, the court upheld a lower court’s ruling that Pence acted properly when he withheld some documents that had been sought by Indianapolis attorney William Groth under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act. The court agreed with Pence’s argument that the documents, which related to Indiana’s decision to join the state of Texas in a legal challenge to an immigration order by President Barack Obama, were legal working papers that were exempt from public disclosure.

Judge Edward Najam wrote that one of the documents the governor decided to withhold, a “white paper” on legal strategy that was prepared by a Texas official, “is exactly the type of record that may be excluded from public access under APRA.” The court ruled that the governor’s decision to redact some information from legal invoices related to the decision was similarly within the law.

This is the way the law is supposed to work. The Indiana public access counselor, Luke Britt, and a superior court judge had previously come to the same conclusion.

But Pence’s legal team sought to go much further, citing an Indiana Supreme Court decision last year that has made the legislature virtually exempt from its own open-records requirements. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 9:35 AM

The executive director of the state Committee on Open Government really took to heart Sen. Brad Hoylman’s Friday request for an “expedited” advisory opinion on the question of whether or not the state Senate’s new rule barring the use of cellphones as audio, video or photographic recording devices within the chamber and its public galleries without the permission of the Senate secretary violates the state’s Open Meeting Law.

Robert Freeman’s conclusion, in a five-page letter to Hoylman dated Monday, is that the rule is clearly contrary to state law.

The letter — which backs up comments Freeman made to journalists last week in the wake of Wednesday’s adoption of the chamber’s rules, including the cellphone ban — notes the decades of legal precedent that defines what constitutes a “public body” and requires that such bodies must make their proceedings available for photography, audio and video recording and broadcast. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 9:34 AM

Two of Gov. Kate Brown’s top staffers stepped down last week following news reports that employment they held outside of her office could compromise their work for the government.

The governor’s spokespeople argued the assertions were baseless as the story played out. And since the resignations were confirmed, they haven’t acknowledged what might have been learned. What’s so dismaying is how familiar it feels.

Willamette Week had raised potential conflict-of-interest questions about Kristen Leonard, Brown’s chief of staff, and Abby Tibbs, her deputy chief of staff. A main issue for Leonard, who had served in the role since late 2015, centered on a software company she owns with her husband that has a $214,000 contract with the state to provide agencies with a tool to track legislative bills.

Tibbs, who joined the office full-time in December, had been overseeing budget work for Brown since October while on leave from her job as a lobbyist for Oregon Health and Science University.

Both Leonard and Tibbs resigned this week and Brown’s spokesman has said the departures weren’t related to the recent press reports. Continue…
 

ethics, Governor, Oregon
January 11, 2017 9:33 AM

Government transparency was one of the big topics at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information held a joint press conference with other local groups to raise their concerns over government email deletion and other transparency issues.

"It seems like the only way we can discover emails is through a lawsuit and if the emails don't exist, or even if they do exist, and they say they don't have them, how do we know?" St. Paul Strong member Jim Mannillo asks during a press conference at the capitol Tuesday morning.

The concern over public emails came after various policies were revealed showing how some governmental entities have been deleting public emails to free up their servers.

KARE 11 did a news story in December that showed Hennepin County has a policy of deleting emails after 180 days. The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office deletes its emails every 30 days. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 9:32 AM

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley last week announced a list of measures he is asking the Legislature to pass this session. While all are important, there was one that stood out to us: making criminal booking photographs part of the public record.

You know them as “mug shots.”

Whenever anybody is arrested for a crime, law enforcement agencies take a photograph of the accused.

Arrest records are public information. You, as a citizen, have a right to know who is being arrested by law enforcement agencies in your state, city or neighborhood. There is no question about that. You have every right to know what crimes are being committed, and by whom.

Apparently, however, you do not have the right to know what the perpetrators look like.

Mug shots currently are not considered part of the public record, so police can – and do – keep them secret. Jackley wants to change that, and we support him in that endeavor. Continue...
 

January 11, 2017 9:31 AM

This has nothing to do with whether Oklahoma Rep. Dan Kirby is innocent of sexual harassment, as he claims. This has nothing to do with whether University of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon deserves a second chance after a video showed him punching a woman who had slapped him.

This has everything to do with our right to know what transpires in a public setting or how our taxpayer dollars are being spent.

By now, you may know about both stories. You may have formed strong opinions about both, too.
However, what makes this even more outrageous is that the surveillance video involving Mixon took 2½ years and probably thousands of dollars in attorney fees before it was released in an 8-1 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling. Every OU fan and Oklahoman should be embarrassed by the countless number of times it has been shown on TV and online after Dec. 16, so many times that one anchor asked his production team to stop showing it. It reignited harsh feelings toward Mixon as well as the victim of his punch. Continue…
 

January 11, 2017 9:29 AM

The South Portland Police Department has released the document that spells out its officers should use the body cameras that they will begin wearing in a few weeks.

The department posted the policy on its Facebook page following calls from civil liberties advocates for assurance the the cameras will not be used to invade people’s privacy. The policy was not initially released when the department announced that it would begin using the technology. The ACLU of Maine filed a public records request for the document, according Legal Director Zach Heiden.

Privacy advocates worry that footage of people’s personal lives could made public. Police body camera recordings are subject to Maine public records law, according to Heiden, although the policy provides exceptions for footage pertinent to open investigations. Continue…
 

January 9, 2017 10:34 AM

Accusing Gov. John Kasich of “engaging in Putin-like rule” to overturn a state law on health-care price transparency, the law’s sponsor wants the attorney general to hire outside counsel to defend the state against an industry lawsuit.

In December, groups including the Ohio Hospital Association and the Ohio State Medical Association filed suit to block a law passed in June 2015 that was hailed by supporters as one of Ohio's broadest and most meaningful advances in health-care-cost transparency. But doctors, hospitals and other health-care providers say the law, which was added to the unrelated Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget bill, will actually create bureaucratic nightmares for non-emergency services.

The law was to take effect Jan. 1, but Williams County Common Pleas Judge J.T. Stelzer issued a 30-day temporary restraining order. A hearing on a preliminary injunction is set for Jan. 20. Continue…
 

healthcare, kasich, Ohio
January 9, 2017 10:30 AM

South Carolina legislators this session will again attempt to pass legislation aimed at reforming the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which regulates public meetings and the release of public records. S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, and S.C. Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, pre-filed a FOIA bill in the House, and Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, has filed a similar Senate bill.

This is the fourth term Taylor has introduced his bill, he said at a legislative workshop Thursday. Taylor’s bill would adjudicate FOIA disputes in Administrative Law Court and shortens a public body's response time to requests from 15 to 10 days, but gives governments more time to produce records.

The law would redact a dying person's last words from 911 recordings. Dash cam video would automatically be public information, but police can apply to circuit court to prevent disclosure. The FOIA bill died last session, and was held up by a minority report. Senate rules allow lawmakers in the minority party to stall bills by issuing a minority report. Continue…
 

January 9, 2017 10:26 AM

The city of San Diego used to have a performance measure for its handling of public records requests.The Human Resources Department, which processes such inquiries, listed “percent of public records act requests completed within mandated timeline” as a key performance indicator in city budgets. In 2013, about 75 percent were completed in the required 10 days. The measure increased to 84 percent in 2014 and 85 percent in 2015.

The figure has not been updated more recently. Measurement of progress on this metric halted earlier this year, when the city rolled out “NextRequest,” an online portal for residents to request city government documents. The new online tool was touted as part of a transparency push.

The online records portal is powered by a San Francisco-based vendor of the same name, at a cost to the city of $22,400 per year. Continue…
 

January 9, 2017 10:22 AM

Frustrated at being stonewalled on getting records on the activities of Troy’s city manager, a city resident has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the city. Ann Erickson Gault wants disclosure of public documents she requested regarding City Manager Brian Kischnick. The lawsuit, which was assigned to Oakland Circuit Judge Nanci Grant, not only seeks the requested documents about his city-owned vehicle and other matters but also the awarding of to-be-determined damages, including attorney fees, for allegedly violating the state’s open records law.


The News reported in July how Troy officials said questionable practices by Kischnick – including an unreported accident with a city vehicle – had been quietly scrutinized for over two months. After receiving a report, the City Council said in July that all matters had been resolved, including Kischnick’s agreement to reimburse the city for $1,000 to cover an insurance deductible for repairs caused by an unreported traffic accident involving a city-owned Jeep he was driving. Continue…
 

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