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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August 1, 2014 7:23 AM

With the gridlock in Washington, and the latest scandal involving Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s alleged meddling in the work of the commission he created to help root out corruption in Albany, it’s too easy to think that “government” — and government shenanigans — are something far away, either up the Hudson or down I-95.

But government is as near as your local school board, zoning board or village board, the Town of Hempstead council or the County Legislature. Indeed, the decisions made by your elected representatives at the school district, village, town and county levels often have way more to do with your everyday lives, and pocketbooks, than the laws passed in either capital.

And those local boards and councils can sometimes be as guilty of improper behavior as public officials at higher levels. Just because local trustees are our neighbors doesn’t make them less human, more perfect or less tempted to sin than the rest of us. The fact that they have less experience with the process and rules for getting things done than state and federal officials actually explains how it’s even easier for our local boards to get into trouble. Continue>>>
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August 1, 2014 7:22 AM

As government records grow in both volume and type, agencies are challenged with managing that information in a manner that combines physical and digital environments. Moreover, by 2019, agencies will be required to manage their permanent electronic records in a format that meets the guidelines of the presidential directive on managing government records.

The directive's goals are to minimize costs and promote greater openness, accessibility and accountability between government and citizens in alignment with President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative, which was launched in 2009.

As agencies work to improve their digitization strategies, they must recognize the value and efficiency of close collaboration between records management (RM) and IT professionals. Although each group brings its own expertise to the digitization process, together -- and in compliance with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) procedures -- they can form a winning partnership to propel agencies forward during their move to digital records. Continue>>>
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August 1, 2014 7:20 AM

In its last meeting, the Vashon Park District (WA) voted on a severance agreement for a former employee who had worked for the district for several years. It was the second time the commissioners voted on the agreement because they first voted in a closed executive session, which is prohibited by state law.

Park district Executive Director Elaine Ott said she requested the second vote on July 22 after she learned at a recent workshop that the previous vote, in March, should have been taken in public. Ott noted that at the time she believed the issue was supposed to be acted on privately. “I will admit I was surprised,” she said. “I had thought that personnel and legal issues were sacrosanct.”

Nancy Krier, the assistant attorney general for open government, said that Washington’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) allows for discussion of those and other matters in private executive sessions, but final actions, such as votes, must be taken publicly. If a board makes an error, there are specific steps it can take to remedy it, she noted. Continue>>>
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August 1, 2014 7:19 AM

More FOIA-related nonsense, this time from the CIA. Michael Morisy, co-founder of MuckRock, sent a request for internal emails discussing (rather ironically) the fact that the CIA's "FOIA Portal" seems to suffer from extended periods of downtime.

This is a request under the Freedom of
Given the agency's disdain for the FOIA process (second only to the NYPD), I'm sure this sort of outage is viewed as a feature, not a bug. But whatever internal musings the CIA had about its FOIA portal issues will apparently be staying internal for the time being.

The CIA rejected Morisy's request in full, basically stating that searching for emails is hard work and that the requester could have at least bothered to know exactly who was talking about the portal issues and exactly when they were doing it before making the request. Continue>>>
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CIA, email records
July 29, 2014 6:47 AM

The day after the state Supreme Court issued its second ruling in a month scaling back what our government has to do in public, I got a note from someone close to the chief justice that said, “It seems pretty clear the Court in this case and Lambries is telling the Legislature to revise the FOIA.”

That same day, the head of the S.C. Press Association foreshadowed what lots of critics would say when he complained that the court once again had ruled against openness and “punted important issues back to the Legislature for change.”

And it occurred to me that this might be a good time to review the job we assign to courts in our system of government. Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:46 AM

Upon entering office in January of 2009, President Obama promised us an era of openness and transparency in the federal government.

He set a policy in place mandating that federal records be released when requested by the public, on the premise that "sun-light is said to be the best of disinfectants." He instructed the executive departments and agencies to operate with a presumption towards disclosure when handling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. On this point he stated as follows:

"The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public."

These instructions were followed up by further instructions in a memo from Attorney General Eric Holder on March 19, 2009. The Attorney General stated as follows: Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:45 AM

The disappearance of rights is seldom an immediate process. There are too many people willing to stand up and fight against such an undermining of power. The danger is when it comes as a trickle or a tweak. That’s what slowly erodes the soul of transparency.

Gov. Pat Quinn recognized the steep downward slope on which such a tweak would have perched Illinois’ open records law last week when he vetoed a legislative plan to give municipalities more leeway in answering some requests for information. Let’s hope lawmakers leave it alone.

The state’s open records laws stipulate what government agencies must show the public. It doesn’t matter if it’s a school board or a state’s attorney, the overriding belief is that people have a right to know how their money is being spent and what their government is doing. Continue>>>
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illinois, open records
July 29, 2014 6:43 AM

In his first day in office, President Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for a new era of open and accountable government.

“My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” — President Obama, Jan. 21, 2009

In today’s increasingly digital world, it is vital that the American public has access to all appropriate federal government communications to improve transparency and increase trust. Yet, five years after the president’s commitment, the government has yet to effectively and safely create this level of openness. Given that the federal government is now the single largest producer, collector, consumer and disseminator of information in the U.S., there is no doubt that it’s time to review policies and procedures of information communication and dissemination to determine a real-time approach to information management. Continue>>>

July 29, 2014 6:42 AM

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government announced the winners of its annual awards dedicated to open government. The group announced three recipients of the Dixon First Amendment Award, one lawyer, one journalist and one in government.

Charles “Kip” Purcell will be given the award for lawyers, Colleen Heild of the Albuquerque Journal will be given the award for journalists and State Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, for members of government.

“The battle against government secrecy is a lifelong fight that many appreciate yet few actually wage,” Kathi Bearden, FOG president, said. “When you’re in it for the long haul, you’d better have a sharp intellect and a great sense of humor. Bill Dixon had both. We celebrate his memory and celebrate those who continue the fight in new and innovative ways. Their perseverance benefits us all and serves as a beacon for democracy through good government in a rapidly changing world.” Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:41 AM

Vision Internet, innovators in online government, today announced the winners of its inaugural “What’s Next” Awards competition, which recognizes local government websites for excellence in five categories: transparency, citizen engagement, online innovation, green gov and visual impact.

“In this digital age, municipal websites have become the go-to source of information for residents and the first impression for visitors, businesses and families thinking of moving into a community,” said Ashley Fruechting, Vision Internet’s director of strategic initiatives. “Our What’s Next Awards spotlight municipalities that exemplify how local government can embrace innovative technology to transform their organizations and enhance community interaction.”

The 2014 winners of Vision Internet’s What’s Next Awards are: Marion County, Florida, City of Palm Bay, Florida, City of Reno, Nevada, City of Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, City of San Angelo, Texas. Continue>>>
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July 29, 2014 6:39 AM

Last week, I invited readers along on my journey through the Freedom of Information Act via one record request filed May 20. I asked the Department of the Army for records of a government contractor who had been blacklisted in April for some kind of violation. The story so far: Aside from a letter acknowledging my request, I have received zip.

A congenial Army FOIA program analyst called me Monday morning and promised to check into my request. He kept his word, and gave me the name and number of an actual person in the Army unit that might actually be somewhere close to the record in question. I left two messages for that person, but no one called back.

On the advice of the Twitterati, I escalated to the FOIA Public Liaison, who, according to a number of government web sites, is named Bruno Leuyer. The woman who answered his phone said he was in a meeting, but did not seem to know what a FOIA public liaison was. She sent me back to the Army FOIA office, and said she would have the supervisor of the Army FOIA program manager call me that day. Continue>>>
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July 22, 2014 7:08 AM

If the police shoot a man, saying that he was shooting at them, but the autopsy shows the man had no gunshot residue on his hands and that he was shot in the back, don’t you think the public has a right to know about it?

If it had happened in your community, to someone you know, or within the police or sheriff’s department on which you depend, wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you want to demand further investigation? Isn’t this information crucial to making sure our government and police are acting properly?

The S.C. Supreme Court doesn’t think so. It ruled last week that autopsy reports, even when they are prepared at taxpayer expense, are medical records and can be kept private. This misguided ruling is a blow against open government, accountability and an informed public. Continue>>>
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