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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October 9, 2014 1:46 AM

he Knight Foundation Tuesday announced a $1.8 million investment in the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships Program at Stanford University for a series of new initiatives, including the establishment of a workshop on transformative news leadership.

The Knight Fellowships each year brings 20 journalists and journalism entrepreneurs to Stanford for 10 months. During that time they focus on journalism innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership as they work to meet a specific journalism challenge that each has identified. The program's goal is to develop leaders with transformative ideas and innovative approaches they can use as they move forward in their journalism careers.

The program will use the money to 'strengthen the fellowship curriculum and help spread the programí' impact into newsrooms and beyond,î according to a release from the Knight Foundation (full release below). Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:45 AM

An important survey from the Associated Press lays out in detail just how the Obama administration limits access to public information. As we face a new war in the Middle East, a dangerous outbreak of a virulent disease and a number of political scandals, itís more important than ever that American citizens ó and American voters ó to have access to information.

Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee, speaking to the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers, pointed to specific ways the administration blocks information.

First is the war in the Middle East (though the administration seems unwilling to call it a war). ìAs the United States ramps up its fight against Islamic militants, the public can't see any of it,î the Associated Press reported. ìNews organizations can't shoot photos or video of bombers as they take off ó there are no embeds. In fact, the administration won't even say what country the bombers fly from.î Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:44 AM

The Internal Revenue Service failed to comply with Freedom of Information Act requirements for about 11 percent of the requests it received for information, according to a new report.

The report, from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, comes at a sensitive time for both the IRS and the Inspector General's office, when both face lawsuits from conservative watchdog groups over their failure to turn over emails and other information related to the scandal involving applications for tax-exempt status.

The report was released because TIGTA is required to conduct periodic audits to determine if the IRS properly denied written requests for taxpayer information. TIGTA is also required to include the results in one of its Semiannual Reports to Congress. The report, which was released last week, is TIGTA's fifteenth review of denials of the FOIA, Privacy Act and Section 6103 information requests. Section 6103 of the Tax Code pertains to confidentiality and disclosure of returns and return information. Continue>>>
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October 9, 2014 1:43 AM

York County's Board of Supervisors is considering changing how it applies the state's Freedom of Information Act, including increasing fees for copies of the county's zoning ordinance and Yorktown design guidelines.

FOIA gives residents access to public records and will be discussed during the board's work session at 6 p.m. Tuesday at York Hall, according to board's agenda.

County Administrator James O. McReynolds and staff have recommended making permanent the county's current practice of not charging members of the public for the first 15 minutes of staff time to retrieve and copy materials or for copying the first five pages of public information. After that, under the changes being considered, copies will be 2 cents a page and staff members' time will be accounted for and charged separately. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:05 PM

The Udall Foundation was established by the U.S. Congress in 1992 as an independent executive branch agency to honor Morris K. Udall's lasting impact on this nation's environment, public lands, and natural resources, and his support of the rights and self-governance of American Indians and Alaska Natives (P.L. 102-259).

The Open Government Directive, issued by the Office of Management and Budget in 2009, directed all executive branch departments and agencies to take specific actions to achieve transparency, including the publication of information online.

The Udall Foundation embraces the values of transparency, participation, and collaboration as it works to implement its mission. In addition to the data on this page, information about the Udall Foundation's work is available throughout the website. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:03 PM

Jason Grumet argued in ìGovernment wilting from the sunshineî [Washington Forum, Oct. 2] that transparency measures such as open meetings and records laws have a 'dark side,' one that is presumably responsible for the 77 percent of Americans who do not trust their government most of the time. Perhaps the fact that Congress has exempted itself from the Freedom of Information Act and has no requirements to hold all meetings in public might contribute to the mistrust that troubles Mr. Grumet.

A cop on the beat has little expectation of privacy when doing his job. A senator or a subcommittee cutting a deal with a special interest shouldn't either. Sadly, we hold Congress to a much lower standard of openness while executive-branch agencies stonewall requests for information. Blame for suspicion of and dissatisfaction with Congress and the executive branch rests entirely at the feet of our elected officials, who, by restricting access to information, do much to prove themselves unworthy of trust. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:01 PM

Recently the Sentinel reported that prosecutors were looking at possible violations of Florida's "Government in the Sunshine" laws by public officials in Maitland. Its City Council is the latest among several Central Florida public agencies in recent years whose members have been investigated for violating open meetings or open records requirements. We conducted an email interview with one of Florida's leading open government advocates, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen, to get some perspective. Excerpts of that interview follow. A longer version is online at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.

Q: How common are Sunshine law investigations around the state?

A: I think investigations are fairly common, although such investigations rarely lead to charges being filed. Textgate is, I believe, a good example. The [Orange-Osceola] state attorney had found that the text messages, which were clearly public records, had been deleted and/or destroyed [by Orange County commissioners in 2012], which is a violation of law. But criminal charges weren't filed against the offending public officials.

Q: Have there been well-known prosecutions in the past for Sunshine law violations? Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 1:00 PM

A bill before the state House of Representatives aims to mend gaps in Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know law. It actually may do more harm than good.

The bill was passed by the Senate on Sept. 24. Including today, there are six days left in the legislative session, and Senate Bill 444 is now before the House. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The current Right-to-Know law, well into its fifth year, increased the public's access to government records by shifting the burden of proof: An agency now trying to deny a record must provide legal grounds for keeping it secret. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:57 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe has served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former newspaper publisher and state newspaper association director who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:55 PM

A state tax official conducted a background research on a Republican party official after receiving a public information request, the Daily News has learned.

Without mentioning his job, Joe Uddo, who is the political director for the state GOP, had filed a ìFreedom of Information Law' request on Aug. 22 with the tax department seeking to understand why some taxpayers had been disqualified from a property tax exemption program.

Days before the request was rejected last month, Uddo received a message from the online professional networking site LinkedIn that someone had reviewed his profile, which identified him as a GOP official. That person turned out to be a tax department employee who received Uddo's freedom of information request. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:53 PM

Many people continue to be surprised that the voters of San Jose, Calif., a city with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, approved a public-pension-reform ballot measure in June 2012 with a nearly 70 percent yes vote. How is this possible in liberal California, despite stringent objections from public-employee unions?

Two words: open government.

Before the vote, San Jose experienced 10 years of cutting services to balance the budget. Thousands of city jobs were eliminated. Layoffs included police officers and firefighters.

In 2011, the city council adopted a fiscal reform plan that saved San Jose from service-delivery insolvency. The pension-reform ballot measure is just one element of this plan. The resultant savings have allowed San Jose to avoid insolvency and improve services for three straight years. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:12 PM

Part of the college experience in Norman is the daily fight for a place to park. With more cars than parking spots, the university hands out tens of thousands of parking tickets.

Data from the University shows the school gave nearly 60,000 parking tickets last year---bringing in nearly a million dollars in fines alone.

Enter Joey Stipek, a journalist and special projects editor for the school paper, the Oklahoma Daily. "I'm just doing my job, I just want access to the records," Stipek said. Continue>>>
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