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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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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January 30, 2014 3:11 AM

All but four states now post at least partial information online showing which companies are receiving economic development subsidies. But the quality and depth of that disclosure varies widely, both among and within states. Three-fourths of major state development programs still fail to disclose actual jobs created or workers trained, and only one in eleven discloses wages actually paid. The best disclosure practices are found in Illinois and Michigan, but even their scores would be near-failing as report card grades.

These are the key findings of Show Us the Subsidized Jobs, a report issued today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC.

“Aside from a handful of holdouts, state governments now accept the idea that the public has a right to online data about which companies are receiving taxpayer-funded job subsidies.” said Good Jobs First executive director Greg LeRoy. “But with unemployment still high, Americans need to know how many jobs and what kind of wages and benefits their taxpayer investments are generating.” Continue >>>
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January 30, 2014 2:11 AM

On the occasion of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this week, marking five years since he was sworn into office with the stated primary objective of turning around the post-crisis domestic economy, it’s worth asking: Is America safe from another economic crisis?

Despite the regulatory efforts hustled in as a result of public panic and a political class desperate to be seen doing something, the initial problems remain, and the next crisis could be even worse. Among the major problems: risky loans to those who can’t repay them. Liberal advocacy groups such as Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), pushed lenders such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to grant loans to borrowers who couldn’t afford repayment.

The underlying problem still exists, and the new regulations are pure political theater.

“You can’t repeal the laws of supply and demand or prevent financial crisis,” says regulatory expert Donald Lamson, a partner at the law firm Shearman & Sterling. “Thus, you’ll always be tempted to save large institutions to prevent pain on a large scale.” Continue>>>

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January 30, 2014 1:11 AM

One of the city’s biggest open-government advocates isn’t heeding his own advice — and he’s the mayor. Nearly a month into his administration, Mayor de Blasio has yet to appoint a records officer to handle requests for public information from citizens and the media.

The lack of urgency in setting up shop contrasts sharply with de Blasio’s position as public advocate, where he released a 29-page paper berating city agencies for ignoring public-access laws.

He even doled out harsh letter grades like a disappointed teacher in that paper, issued last April —  assigning F’s to the NYPD and NYCHA for their slow disclosures. Continue>>>

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January 29, 2014 2:11 AM

NFOIC state affiliate Maine Freedom of Information Coalition  is helping to drive this effort:

Lawmakers are treading carefully as they consider a request to grant investigative and enforcement powers to the state official who mediates disputes over access to government records and meetings.

The push to enhance the statutory power of Maine’s public access ombudsman follows two recent high-profile cases in which officials in the LePage administration delayed the release of documents requested through the Freedom of Access Act.

In one case, a nonpartisan review showed that officials in the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention ordered staff members to destroy documents after they were requested by a newspaper.

In the other, the administration delayed, for nearly a month, the release of the first portion of a $925,000 study of the state’s welfare system despite multiple requests by the Portland Press Herald and other media outlets, and a directive by Attorney General Janet Mills. Continue >>>

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January 29, 2014 1:11 AM

NFOIC state affiliate  Washington Coalition for Open Government‘s presented Speaker of the House Frank Chopp with its highest award Tuesday evening. The Ballard Thompson Award is given to the state legislator who demonstrated the most “outstanding dedication to the cause of open government” the previous legislative session.

The Olympian newspaper explains why:

Here in Olympia, the heart of Washington state’s government, laws are made. Programs are created or scrapped. Billions of tax dollars are spent. Politicians come and go.

To find out how all of this works, and how it affects you, you need an open window to government. For more than 40 years, the state Public Records Act has been that window, allowing anyone to see what’s really going on in state and local government just by asking.

Are campaign promises kept? Who benefits from tax breaks? Is crime rising or falling? Which schools are most successful? Why? No matter whom you are or why you want to know, the Public Records Act requires “promptly” granting your records request so that you can find out information when it matters. Continue>>>
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January 28, 2014 4:41 AM

Clinton city (IA) officials and former city officials involved in a lawsuit filed by a citizen’s group over closed meeting records are being advised they could be personally liable if there are any penalties or attorney’s fees levied in the case.

The communication was issued by the city’s acting legal counsel, John Frey. KROS News obtained a copy of the communication issued Jan. 20 from a person involved in the case. A judge earlier ruled the city violated the open records laws by not releasing the records of the closed meetings. A hearing on damages is scheduled for Thursday this week.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a local group known as Citizens for Open Government. The sessions involved an Emergency Medical Services billing lawsuit that resulted in a settlement of the city paying the federal government $4.5 million in the Medicare-Medicaid case. The case claimed the city over-billed the government agencies for ambulance services. Continue >>>
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January 28, 2014 3:31 AM

San Diego mayoral candidates Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez responded to 11 questions submitted by KPBS listeners and readers through the Public Insight Network.

The Public Insight Network is a national tool managed by American Public Media that gives news outlets a way to find sources, survey and connect with their audiences. More than 40 questions were submitted by KPBS listeners and readers, and KPBS staff selected the most relevant ones.

Faulconer and Alvarez provided written answers to the questions, which are published here without editing. Continue>>>
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