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 27, 2017 2:46 PM

A few days before President Trump's inauguration, MuckRock opened up a Slack channel to help journalists better cover him and his administration.

As of Wednesday, 250 people signed up. Most are journalists, about half from national newsrooms and half from local newsrooms around the country. Update: As of Thursday, 1,500 people have signed up.

"Anytime we have a new administration, there's turnover and there are changes," said Michael Morisy, MuckRock's co-founder. "I always think it's important for reporters to get an understating of what that new administration's priorities are. I think that's true no matter who's taking office."

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January 27, 2017 2:36 PM

The District of Columbia, citing the "novelty" of this Open Meetings Act enforcement action, got more time over the holidays for the mayor's Caribbean Community Affairs Commission to figure out its next step in the case. The commission is one of the D.C. mayor's many public advisory bodies, and is alleged to have failed in fulfilling the law's requirements to inform the public in advance about meetings and to furnish a record of each meeting promptly afterwards.

Filed in October 2016, the case is the first court action by the Office of Open Government, an independent agency created by the D.C. Council in the 2011 Act to be the enforcement watchdog. Prior complaints, including several by the Coalition, led to investigations and opinions by the Office requiring compliance.

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January 26, 2017 2:43 PM

The New York City Council’s Committee on Technology held an oversight hearing Tuesday to evaluate the progress being made by the city in tracking compliance by government agencies with the city’s open data law.

The Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics (MODA) has been conducting what is essentially an audit, the “Examination and Verification Plan,” to gauge each agency’s status regarding its publication of required data sets on the Open Data Portal, an online access point meant to open government to the public.

This means public information on everything from motor vehicle collisions to wifi hotspot locations to leading causes of death, which, in theory, allows regular New Yorkers to better evaluate city services, gives civic technologists more to work with in acting as an outside of government check, and encourages problem-solving using data.

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January 26, 2017 2:32 PM

An attorney who specializes in open government believes there is strong evidence that showed four El Paso city council members and the mayor knowingly evaded the Texas Open Meetings Act in December.

Houston attorney Joe Larsen described the group's actions as "alarming." Larsen is a member of The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. The group works to ensure the public's business is conducted in public and protect the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment.

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January 26, 2017 2:30 PM

The New England First Amendment Coalition today submitted comments to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court opposing proposed amendments to the state’s probate court rules.

The amendments would, among other things, classify all inventories, accountings, death certificates, birth certificates and causes of death as confidential and make them available only to parties in a probate proceeding. By doing so, the public’s ability to learn about its government would be unnecessarily limited, explained Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a Jan. 25 letter to the Maine SJC.

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January 25, 2017 2:22 PM

Kentucky State Police violated the state's open-records law by refusing a mother's request for bodycam video from her son's death by municipal police officers who were responding to a restaurant drive-thru shooting, the state attorney general's office said Monday.

The agency had denied Kathy Harris a copy of the police bodycam video because it said public disclosure of the "extremely graphic images" would be so traumatic that it could "irreparably harm" the Harris family and two victims who survived the shooting spree in Russellville, Kentucky.

That argument was rejected by Assistant Attorney General Michelle D. Harrison. Her opinion sided with Harris, whose 34-year-old son Joseph Harris was fatally shot in the confrontation with officers in the southern Kentucky town last March.

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January 25, 2017 2:20 PM

A Kentucky judge has sided with the state's flagship university in an open-records dispute involving a student newspaper's dogged pursuit of documents it wants to review in a sexual harassment investigation of a former professor.

In his ruling Monday, Fayette Circuit Judge Thomas Clark reversed a state attorney general's opinion in the case pitting the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper. The AG's office said last year that the university had violated the state's open-records law by refusing to release documents on the professor's case to the newspaper on the Lexington campus.

The university responded by suing the campus newspaper. Under state law, the AG's opinions can be appealed, but the attorney general cannot be named as a party in the suit. The university said its dispute was with Attorney General Andy Beshear, not the campus newspaper.

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January 25, 2017 2:18 PM

Trump administration officials instructed employees at multiple agencies in recent days to cease communicating with the public through news releases, official social media accounts and correspondence, raising concerns that federal employees will be able to convey only information that supports the new president’s agenda.

The new limits on public communications appear to be targeting agencies that are charged with overseeing environmental and scientific policy, prompting criticism from officials within the agencies and from outside groups focused on climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Agriculture and Interior departments now have formal policies restricting what they should convey to the public about their work.

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January 24, 2017 1:33 PM

Concerned that some government boards were barring the public from meetings that should have been open, state lawmakers in 2001 enacted major changes to Colorado’s Sunshine Law.

They added, among other new requirements, two prerequisites before officials could shut the door: 1) Cite the statutory subsection authorizing the executive session; and 2) Reveal the particular matter to be discussed “in as much detail as possible without compromising the purpose for which the executive session is authorized.”

The public, the General Assembly decided, is entitled to know something about what their city councils, county commissions and school boards talk about in private meetings.

But how much specificity is required under the law when a government body votes to go into executive session? In two recent court decisions, judges in Jefferson and Eagle counties offered starkly different viewpoints.

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January 24, 2017 1:28 PM

Government agencies, in many instances, have given contractors exclusive rights to the data. The government then removes it from public view online or never posts the data, laws and documents that are considered public information.

Public datasets that state and local governments are handing off to private contractors include court records and judicial opinions; detailed versions of state and local laws and, in some cases, the laws themselves; building codes and standards; and public university graduation records.

Much of the information collected and stored by private data companies such as LexisNexis, Westlaw or CrimeMapping.com is not available to the public without a price. The information that is available often is not searchable, cannot be compared with data from other jurisdictions and cannot be copied unless members of the public pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in subscription fees.

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January 24, 2017 1:23 PM

Last year Yakima County responded to 2,453 requests for public documents. Many of those had multiple parts, each requiring research of thousands of documents.

For example, one recent request in the county’s planning department contained 10 boxes of documents.

Answering requests isn’t always simple. Documents must be reviewed to redact confidential information, a process that could take weeks or months depending on the size and scope of the request, said the county’s public records officer, Stormy Miller.

“People think they’re just going to put in their record requests and get their documents — and it’s not that easy,” she said.

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January 23, 2017 12:09 PM

The Office of Open Records Counsel has published a new model public records policy that can be used by government entities in establishing records policies, which are required by law this year.

A new law mandates that all government entities in the state establish a public records policy by July 1, 2017. The policies must include the name of entity’s public records request coordinator and include information about requesting public records and any fees.

The model policy developed by the Open Records Counsel, along with updated Best Practices & Guidelines, includes many of the same principles and advice given previously by the office. But the updated guidelines and new model policy could make it easier for government entities to understand what is required under the law and help them avoid adopting policies or practices that are in conflict with the law.

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