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 28, 2015 1:18 AM

When Oakley's attorney, Richard Hamilton, failed to forward a Freedom of Information Act request to the village's FOIA coordinator, the village violated Michigan law, a judge ruled Friday, Jan. 23.

Shiawassee County Judge says Oakley violated FOIA law when attorney ignored request
When Oakley's attorney, Richard Hamilton, failed to forward a Freedom of Information Act request to the village's FOIA coordinator, the village violated Michigan law, a judge ruled Friday, Jan. 23.
"The defendant arbitrarily and capriciously violated the act through attorney Hamilton's actions," Shiawassee County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart said.

The ruling resulted in a $500 penalty and "reasonable attorney fees" to be paid within 30 days by the village to Brandi Bitterman, who sued after the village failed to respond to her October FOIA request seeking the names of the reserve police officers on the Oakley Police Department. Continue>>>
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January 28, 2015 1:14 AM

Heli-skiing: it’s the holy grail for thrill-seeking skiers and snowboarders. Ride to the roof of the world aboard a helicopter. Descend thousands of vertical feet through fresh, untracked powder. No lift lines, no ski patrol.

This is what heli-skiers pay upwards of $1,000 per day to see. What they don’t see is the heli-ski tour company owner, back at the office fretting over his trade secrets.

These fly-by-day firms have many of the same trade secrets concerns as the technology companies, restaurateurs, fragrance makers, executive recruiting firms and countless other businesses we regularly write about. Continue>>>
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January 28, 2015 1:09 AM

Three police cars scream down your street and officers stay in your neighbor's home for an hour before leaving.

You want to know what happened, but you don't want to ask the neighbor.

A Freedom of Information Act request for the police report should answer your question, right? Continue>>>
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January 28, 2015 1:06 AM

Ever wonder how much your child's teacher earns? Or how much the city spent to repave your street? Or whether your neighbor has ever been cited for not keeping up his property?

The answers to these questions are found in records owned by the public, which are supposed to be there for the asking. But accessing those records is often more difficult than it needs to be.

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1976 as a way to ensure public access to government records. Many states and the federal government took up the cause of expanding transparency after the Watergate scandal. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:50 PM

New Mexico State University plans to propose extensive changes to restrict the reach of the state’s public records law – amendments that transparency advocates call “troubling” and vow to fight.

A document prepared by NMSU and obtained by the Journal describes a litany of proposed exemptions to the Inspection of Public Records Act, including some that would make secret much of the public sector hiring process and certain law enforcement activities.

The changes have also been a topic of discussion at the Council of University Presidents, made up of the heads of seven New Mexico public universities. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:48 PM

There is no better protection of our democracy than the public’s right to know — and its power to know — about the doings of its government.

Secrecy and darkness are the breeding ground of corruption and the succor of incompetence.

In Texas, we are fortunate to have a robust law that assumes, with some exceptions, that the government’s information is the people’s information. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:44 PM

For one state lawmaker, allowing political candidates to keep their home addresses out of the public record would help ensure their safety. For another, allowing former judges to keep their addresses and phone numbers out of public records would accomplish the same.

Three bills introduced so far during this legislative session would make what currently is public information private, including a measure that would keep the names of lottery winners secret for 90 days to give those people time to prepare for the world knowing.

While lawmakers pushing for such changes often say safety is their main concern, Leonard Downie Jr., vice president at large of The Washington Post, said bills of this nature can wind up limiting transparency and inhibiting the public's ability to hold the government accountable. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:39 PM

Greg Hines attended a closed-door settlement conference with a judge Friday morning related to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against them by City Attorney Ben Lipscomb.

Lipscomb, the elected city attorney, filed a federal lawsuit in November against the mayor and aldermen claiming his Constitutional rights were violated when the council transferred most of his duties to a staff attorney who answers to the mayor.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette formally objected to the settlement conference being closed, based on the open meetings clause of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:21 PM

Third Judicial District Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins made a ruling Thursday regarding Tennessee's Open Meetings Act that could have far-reaching legal significance.

During a hearing in a Greene County Chancery Court lawsuit which seeks to stop the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County and US Nitrogen's plans to use the Nolichucky River for the company's water supply (see related article, page A-1), Jenkins ruled that deliberations at public meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act must be audible in order to comply with the law.

He had earlier granted a Motion For Leave to Intervene in the case from the advocacy group Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) and its attorney, Richard L. Hollow, of Knoxville. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:10 PM

So much for a honeymoon.

On his second day in office, Gov. Wolf rescinded more than two dozen eleventh-hour appointments by his predecessor - firing the state's new open records officer, canceling judicial nominations, and effectively booting the former lieutenant governor from Temple University's board of trustees.

Wolf's office said he wasn't questioning their credentials for the posts but, rather, a "murky" appointment process by Gov. Tom Corbett that he called "anything but open and transparent." Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 12:11 PM

If you want to see your government in action, just take a seat in the gallery high above the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

But don’t take a picture, unless you want a visit from the security guard. Don’t shoot any video. And that spirited debate you hear below on multi-million-dollar cuts to the state’s most vulnerable citizens? Well, it doesn’t really amount to much. All the important stuff was worked out ahead of time, behind closed doors. Massachusetts’ democracy may be one of the oldest in the country. But it is also, in many respects, one of the most opaque.

Government websites are difficult to navigate. There are no clear penalties for state agencies that improperly deny public records requests. And the Legislature has exempted itself from the state’s public records and open meetings laws. Continue>>>
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January 26, 2015 12:08 PM

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted an open-data initiative aimed at publishing much of the information that Los Angeles County collects in its regular course of business, and that's a good thing as far as it goes. The county is a little late to the game — the city of Los Angeles already has such a program, as do many other large city and county governments — but the open-data movement is still in a formative stage, and the county, as the biggest government in Southern California, is an important entrant into the field.

The move is a welcome example of a new spirit in county government that took hold late last year with the election of two new supervisors, a new sheriff and a new assessor. So it's tempting to take it at face value and presume that a county culture of transparency will follow. But a reality check is in order.

An open-data initiative — which might provide bulk information about various county functions — should not be confused with and cannot substitute for a county government that makes sharing essential information with the public a top priority. A contract with an open-data firm is a good route toward, say, posting property tax data, enumerating the number of lifeguard rescues at any given beach or comparing miles of streets paved in one district with another, and undoubtedly there will be useful things that creative data miners or entrepreneurs can do with that information. Continue>>>

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