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 21, 2014 1:12 AM

The state of Connecticut’s official website will soon undergo a major modernization process under a self-funded plan that is intended to “increase usability, customer service, transparency and access for its visitors,” according to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Shelton-Ct.govWebsiteLogoThe website, www.ct.gov, operates as a portal to every agency in state government and was created almost 20 years ago.

The update should be funded by non-tax dollars and is intended to “ensure the state’s online presence continues to keep up with technological advances,” Malloy said. Continue>>>
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January 20, 2014 1:11 AM

Responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, the IRS has released a series of documents, including training materials used by agents relating to how it recognizes and treats exempt organizations like nonprofits.

The FOIA request was made by Tax Analysts, a nonprofit organization that provides research and analysis of federal, state, and international taxes.

The organization made the request in May 2013 following the controversy regarding the determinations office's handling of exemption applications from conservative organizations. Tax Analysts brought suit against the IRS in August, seeking expedited processing of the request. The IRS released roughly 1,000 pages in September, followed by another 1,800 pages in November. A judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on January 7 ordered that the IRS produce the remaining documents responsive to the FOIA request by January 15. Continue>>>
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January 14, 2014 9:58 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:

Melissa MacGowan, Administrator

NATIONAL FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COALITION

101E Reynolds Journalism Institute

Columbia, MO 65211

(573) 882-4856 · macgowanm@missouri.edu

Supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation, the suit’s settlement

includes training from state’s Sunshine group

COLUMBIA, Mo. (January 14, 2014) – Using a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition(NFOIC), Cindy Ference, a tenant in a King County Housing Authority complex in Shoreline, WA took on the housing authority in a lawsuit last year alleging violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act.

Her successful 2013 lawsuit exposed a now-abolished practice of using a private non-profit board to conduct public Housing Authority business.  Ms. Ference and the Housing Authority settled the open-meeting claims last summer, initiating the first round of reforms, including earlier and more detailed notice of Housing Authority board meetings, posting agendas online, and posting adopted resolutions online in a searchable format. The new settlement resolves the remaining claims under the Public Records Act, and brings the case to a final conclusion.

In the final settlement, the Housing Authority, which serves more than 18,000 low-income, senior and disabled residents in the suburbs of Seattle, agreed to pay Ms. Ference $24,300, which is equivalent to the maximum $100 per day in penalties authorized by Washington’s Public Records Act, in addition to attorney fees.  Those payments were received last week.

Also, the settlement requires that senior staff members and public records officers of the King County Housing Authority receive training to ensure transparency in the future as part of comprehensive voluntary reforms. The Washington Coalition for Open Government(WCOG), a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, will provide training. “We hope this settlement will serve as a model for state and local agencies to partner with WCOG in ensuring open and accountable government,” said WCOG President Toby Nixon. 

Ference received financial support for her legal action from NFOIC, which administers the Knight FOI Fund. The open government litigation fund, which is intended to assist meritorious open government lawsuits, was begun in 2010 under a grant to NFOIC and the University of Missouri from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Hyde Post, president of NFOIC, said, “This is the kind of positive change that the Knight FOI Fund is designed to promote.”

The NFOIC is a nonpartisan national coalition of state and regional open government groups and advocates headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to foster government transparency at the state and local levels. The Knight FOI Fund was begun under a $2 million, three-year grant to NFOIC and the University from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight FOI Fund is set up to assist the pursuit of important open government cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions. For more information on the Knight FOI Fund, please visit: http://www.nfoic.org/knight-foi-fund

Since it began in January 2010, the Knight FOI Fund has assisted litigants with 35 grant awards in FOI or public access cases. While some are still being adjudicated, Knight Fund-supported cases have resulted in 21 favorable court orders or settlements that achieved more transparency or greater access.

January 14, 2014 1:11 AM

New research by Michael Norton and Ryan Buell looks into whether we like the government more if we could see what it was doing.

Henry David Thoreau once said, “That government is best that governs least.” Easy for him to say. Stuck out by himself at Walden Pond, he never had to deal with potholes on his morning commute or broken streetlights at night.

It can be fashionable to rail against government—but that may be because we mostly notice the things that government gets wrong. “You drive for miles on perfectly paved roads but are outraged when you run into one pothole,” says Michael I. Norton, an associate professor in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School. Continue >>>

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January 7, 2014 1:11 AM

The Unites States Navy inadvertently sent a memo to a local NBC News reporter this week detailing how it intended to try and deter requests he had filed under the Freedom Of Information Act.

Scott MacFarlane, a reporter for NBC 4 in Washington, D.C., tweeted out a screenshot of a portion of the memo on Tuesday morning, where the name of Robin Patterson, the Navy's FOIA Public Liaison is visible. The Navy FOIA office confirmed that MacFarlane had made the FOIA requests mentioned in the memo.

According to copies of the FOIA request mentioned in the memo, MacFarlane was looking for information relating to the Navy Yard shooting in September. Continue...

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January 5, 2014 1:11 AM

Two bills submitted for the upcoming session of the General Assembly — one in the House, one in the Senate — are designed to restrict the public’s access to information about wrongdoing by public officials.

These restrictions will make it more difficult for taxpayers to learn about misuse of their money by local governments, school boards, and state-run colleges and universities.

On the House side, Delegate Peter Farrell (R-Henrico) has introduced HB174, summarized like this: Continue...

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January 4, 2014 1:12 AM

Each election year in Wisconsin, about one-third of the local government offices on the ballot will be filled by newcomers — driven to office by a reformer’s zeal or a desire to serve their friends and neighbors. And some of them will know little about the laws that govern the conduct of local government.

That’s where the UW-Extension’s Local Government Center steps in.

For the past 21 years, the center has worked quietly behind the scenes to help neophytes learn the ropes and veteran office holders update their knowledge. Philip Freeburg, the center’s local government law educator, describes the operation as a “boots on the ground” representation of the Wisconsin Idea.

The center offers workshops, fact sheets and teleconferences on a wide range of topics: government finances, human resources, disaster management, elections and ethics. Its mission also includes expanding research and knowledge about local government education. Continue...

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January 4, 2014 1:11 AM

Jonathan Reichental is the CIO of the City of Palo Alto, Calif., and one of the world’s leading proponents of open data. Why is he so big the idea of giving citizens access to the data their governments collect? Because even in times of recession and debt, he said on our Structure Show podcast this week, the one thing governments always have in abundance is data. And it belongs to the people.

However, Reichental noted, open data doesn’t just mean available data. One key notion is that the data should be available in the formats people need — including those that are readable by machines — so they can do the things they need to do with it. “That machine readable concept is an important, important criteria that differentiates open data from just accessing data,” he said.

Here are some highlights from our interview, in which Reichental states his case for why governments should undertake the work of making their data open and makes clear that we’re just in the early stages of the movement. While some cities such as Palo Alto are exposing valuable data as APIs in near real-time, the vast majority haven’t even taken the first step. If you’re interested in the transformative power of data — and in transforming governments — you’ll want to hear the whole thing. Continue...
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December 31, 2013 1:01 AM

 From The Bulletin: Four years ago, the Attorney General’s right-hand man on all issues dealing with government transparency created a comprehensive list of exemptions to the state’s public records laws.

He found more than 400.

“I think, frankly, the volume … is surprising,” said Michael Kron, who still works at the state’s department of justice, but was working under Democratic Attorney General John Kroger at the time. Two years after Kron compiled the list, in 2011, Kroger launched an unsuccessful campaign to improve government transparency.

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December 31, 2013 12:00 AM

SEATTLE — Socrata (www.socrata.com), a Seattle-based cloud software company focused exclusively on democratizing access to government data, today announced a partnership with New York City to make it dramatically easier and more cost effective for cities, counties and states to transparently disseminate their spending data.

Inspired by New York City’s award-winning Checkbook NYC financial transparency application (www.checkbooknyc.com), Socrata will enhance its Open Checkbook application to incorporate Checkbook NYC’s user interface look and feel and its functionality, offering the solution as an easy-to-implement, turnkey, software-as-a-service (SaaS). The new application will be offered as Socrata Open Spending, Inspired by Checkbook NYC.

The new Socrata Open Spending, Inspired by Checkbook NYC application will be one of the featured applications available in Socrata’s forthcoming Civic App Store, a marketplace of open data applications developed by Socrata, Socrata’s government customers and third-party civic application developers.

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December 30, 2013 12:00 AM

From FreeTimes: The South Carolina Public Interest Foundation has filed a lawsuit with the Richland County Clerk of Court against the State Ethics Commission, alleging that the body charged with enforcing state ethics laws violated the Freedom of Information Act by responding to a reporter’s request for a public record with a falsehood.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Ethics Commission initially told local news outlet The Nerve that the letter had been destroyed, but that was disproved when evidence of the letter appeared in a Nov. 17 Associated Press report.

In its filing, dated Dec. 27, the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation asks the court to rule that Hayden and the Ethics Commission violated the Freedom of Information Act. The plaintiffs only ask to be compensated for their legal expenses and any additional relief the court deems fair.

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December 29, 2013 12:00 AM

As the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly was about to end, it passed a law abridging the freedom of the press.  That's one of two freedoms the First Amendment tells us Congress "shall make no law abridging." Abridging, as in diminishing or curtailing free speech or the press.  (A separate task force to "reconcile a compromise"  supported the law's passage in a 14-3 vote. Two of the three dissenting votes were cast by directors of NFOIC affiliate CTFOG). Continue...

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