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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March 27, 2015 8:04 AM
With the revelation that most members of Portsmouth City Council have not taken Sunshine Laws training to understand the need for all things to be done in open sessions so the public can know what is going on, comes word that most local boards are operated by people who have had the training.
 
 
“Just from working at the (Franklin County) Prosecutor’s Office previously, I was aware of the requirements,” Southern Ohio Port Authority Board Director Jason Kester said. “And then from going to the Economic Development Basic Course last year, it came up that it was very important to make sure your board understands that, especially for the Port Authority because we are a quasi-governmental - quasi-private interaction of two worlds, it was highly recommended that I have everybody attend that; go through some training; go through some port authority specific training; go through just some general Ohio Ethics Sunshine Law training.” Continue>>>
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March 27, 2015 8:03 AM
Knoxville officials have begun offering training sessions for city board members after finding possible violations of the state’s sunshine laws.
 
The move stems from a public records request by the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1ycCqPj) in relation to a proposed $9 million digital radio system being discussed by the Knox County E-911 Board of Directors. The newspaper reports the city gave it copies of emails that show some board members discussed the contract in private.
 
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero announced on Feb. 12 that she had ordered Law Director Charles Swanson to review city appointees serving on boards and develop a training program for them. Continue>>>
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March 24, 2015 9:17 AM
New York State voters overwhelmingly disagree with the Cuomo administration’s policy of automatically deleting state workers’ emails after 90 days, according to a poll released Monday.
 
Eighty percent of voters said emails should be saved for a significantly longer period of time, according to the poll, which was conducted by Siena College. Only 16 percent supported the speedy email purges.
 
In Albany, the email policy has drawn loud criticism in recent weeks from government watchdog groups as well as some lawmakers, who have proposed legislation to stop the email purges. The policy has also reinforced Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s reputation for seeking to tightly control information, a defining trait of his administration. Continue>>>
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March 24, 2015 9:16 AM
 
Freedom-of-information advocates say the open records laws in Minnesota and North Dakota are strong but need updating to address ambiguities concerning digital records, such as audio, video, emails and texts, which government officials are using more and more.
 
“I think that North Dakota still has one of the finest open record and open meeting laws in the country,” said attorney Jack McDonald, who lobbies for the North Dakota Newspaper Association. But “there are a few glitches, here and there, that need to be worked out.”
 
McDonald said that in the coming years, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem plans to form a task force of police, city and county officials, as well as news people, to review the state’s open records law in light of the increasing prevalence of digital technology. Continue>>>
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March 24, 2015 9:14 AM
The Ohio Senate made the right decision last week when it announced plans to broadcast coming budget deliberations. It balked at the move last session, when the Ohio House opted to stream its Finance Committee hearings over the Ohio Channel (online at www.ohiochannel.org).
 
Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) offered a glimmer of hope back in January about the possibility of broadcasts. He, Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Scott Oelslager (R-North Canton) made good on the issue during Sunshine Week, announcing a bipartisan agreement to live-stream hearings on the biennial budget bill, which is expected to hit the Senate in coming weeks.
 
"As we celebrate Sunshine Week, there is no better time than now to roll out this real-time access to state government," Oelslager said in a released statement. Still work to do... Continue>>>
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March 24, 2015 9:13 AM
At its Newsmakers forum held on March 17, Carolina Public Press hosted some of the state’s top open government advocates and reporters for a live interview and public question and answer forum about challenges to open government in North Carolina. Two dozen people attended the free and public forum, which was held at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.
 
The event also helped mark Sunshine Week, the annual nationwide celebration of access to public information and what it means for you and your community.
 
In North Carolina, the week is an opportunity for journalists, open government advocates, public officials and community members to discuss open government and its importance to a transparent and vibrant democracy. Continue>>>
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March 24, 2015 9:12 AM
What a terrible Sunshine Week.
 
Founded in 2002, Sunshine Week is celebrated each year in the interest of a simple philosophy: “Open government is good government.” Journalists, activists and supporters of government transparency use this week to commend the strides made for open government, criticize the backslides and lobby for more change.
 
In a country founded on the idea that government derives its powers from the consent of the governed, who can argue with increased transparency? The only hope for an effective democracy is an educated citizenship and an open government. While sunshine laws, like the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act, are not a part of the U.S. Constitution, they are just as central to the health of our democracy. Continue>>>
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March 24, 2015 9:10 AM
Five years ago, the Northwest Herald began an ongoing series called “No More Excuses” to badger and shame local governments into compliance with new and much stronger open-government laws.
 
Timed to coincide with the national observance of Sunshine Week in mid-March, the series also coincided with new laws that not only strengthened the state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts, but also gave the Attorney General Public Access Counselor the power to enforce them upon recalcitrant local governments. The newspaper decided that the time for excuses for not being transparent in an information age was over and that Illinois governments needed to be brought, kicking and screaming if necessary, into modern times.
 
Sunshine laws do not limit what governments can release to or discuss in front of the public – they limit what the government can conceal from them. Continue>>>
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March 23, 2015 12:04 PM

On his first day in office in 2009, President Obama promised that transparency would be one of the "touchstones of this presidency."

Advocates for open government were ecstatic at the promise of less secrecy and the president's directive to all government agencies that "in the face of doubt, openness prevails."

THE WHITE HOUSE: We're committed to openness. Continue>>>
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March 23, 2015 12:01 PM

A House-passed bill allowing South Carolina public agencies to take legal action against citizens who file “unduly burdensome” or “overly broad” open-records requests could be the first law of its kind in the country if enacted, several legal observers say.

“It’s a terrible, terrible idea,” said Adam Marshall, the Jack Nelson-Dow Jones Foundation Legal Fellow at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., when contacted last week by The Nerve. “It gives too much discretion to the agency to employ these measures.”

Under a bill (H. 3191) sponsored by state Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort and an attorney, a public body could seek a hearing before a newly created “Office of Freedom of Information Act Review,” which would be a division of the S.C. Administrative Law Court, to “seek relief from unduly burdensome, overly broad, or otherwise improper requests.” Continue>>>
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March 23, 2015 11:47 AM

After the scandal that sent former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to prison, lawmakers adopted a raft of reforms that included creating a referee to intervene when bureaucrats reject citizens’ requests for government records.

Five years later, the “public access counselor” in the attorney general’s office has yet to respond to more than 2,800 appeals of Freedom of Information Act requests for information that a government agency deemed secret, according to an analysis of records obtained by The Associated Press.

That’s about one in five of all FOIA appeals submitted to the office since the law took effect in 2010. Continue>>>
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March 23, 2015 11:08 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 23, 2015

Contacts:
David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chair, 520-248-6242 (PDT), spjdave@yahoo.com
Barbara Petersen, President, NFOIC, 573-882-4856, nfoic@nfoic.org
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS/Jefferson City – The Society of Professional Journalists and the National Freedom of Information Coalition are joining forces – and legal war chests –  to help citizens and journalists fight for public records.

The two groups will band together to help litigants who sue for access to government information. The NFOIC can provide court fees and SPJ help for attorney fees. Both organizations also will use their combined national networks of journalists and citizens to apply public pressure to government agencies that flaunt the law.

“This is such an exciting collaborative project, one that will lend significant weight to our collective efforts in preserving our right of government oversight and accountability,” said Barbara Petersen, NFOIC president.  “I’m honored to be part of it.”

As part of the partnership approved during national Sunshine Week, SPJ and NFOIC will:

  • Have staff and volunteers from both organizations solicit applications and monitor public record battles at the state and federal levels for worthy cases.
  • Give priority to cases that a) have a strong legal basis, b) have the ability to establish good case law, and c) will help citizens and journalists, regardless of the profession or standing of the plaintiff.
  • Write or join amicus curiae briefs and/or intervene in cases where appropriate.
  • Coordinate publicity and advocacy.
  • Solicit other partners, when merited, such as state coalitions and other national access organizations.

“More than ever, it’s essential for groups to unite in helping citizens fight for government information,” said David Cuillier, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee chair. “Together we are much more powerful against a system that is not weighted in the public’s favor.”

The SPJ Legal Defense Fund was created in 1972 to fight for the First Amendment, primarily for public records and open meetings. Litigants apply for funds and the applications are considered by a six-member committee, aided by SPJ’s attorney. The committee can provide grants of up to $5,000, and larger amounts are considered by the SPJ Board of Directors. The fund has about $75,000 available, and is replenished by donations, interest and an annual auction. In 2014 the SPJ Board approved the creation of an endowed advocacy fund that can also be used for litigation. The endowment currently generates about $4,000 annually.

The Knight FOI Fund was created by NFOIC in 2010 through a grant from the Knight Foundation to help litigants fight for open government. The fund pays for court costs, filing fees, depositions and related expenses, typically $2,000-$3,000 per case. The fund, currently at $444,000, does not pay for attorney fees, nor dictate what attorney is used in the case. The fund stipulates that if the grantee wins and receives an award then they must repay NFOIC. A Litigation Committee decides the merits of applications.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit  spj.org.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition is a national organization that supports our right to open government. Forty-four state and regional coalitions are currently connected through the NFOIC,  representing a nonpartisan alliance promoting collaboration, education and advocacy for open government, transparency and freedom of information. Visit nfoic.org

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