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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July 22, 2016 12:08 PM

Over the past decade, the city of Chicago has sold off more of its public infrastructure and services than any other city in the U.S. It is the poster child for privatization—for privatization gone wrong.

In 2006, the city leased four major parking garages to a Morgan Stanley-led firm for $563 million. In 2009, Morgan Stanley sued the city for threatening its profits by allowing a nearby building to open a public garage. Chicago had to pay $62 million to settle. Continue...

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July 22, 2016 10:10 AM

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office and members of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government will provide free training sessions on open government laws across the state next month.

The training about the Kansas Open Records Act and the Kansas Open Meetings Act will be conducted by attorneys in Schmidt’s office. Panelists will include Kansas Sunshine Coalition members, local government officials and members of the media. Continue...

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July 22, 2016 10:06 AM

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger has launched a new effort that will allow citizens to compare campaign contributions and public contract awards online. The tool, called Illinois OpenBook is the newest government transparency portal released by the state.

By combining information from the Comptroller’s accounting system with information collected by the Illinois State Board of Elections, residents are able to enter the name of an organization that does business with the State of Illinois and look at the political contributions that entity or its employees have made. Continue...

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July 21, 2016 2:47 PM

As some of you might know, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) turned 50 this year! Over these past 50 years FOIA has played an incredibly important role in improving the public's understanding of the government's actions. For one recent example, the photographs of Vice President Cheney on 9/11 that were released as a result of Associated Press's FOIA request add a new dimension to our understanding of that event. Continue...

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July 21, 2016 2:31 PM

We at the Sunlight Foundation are very interested in whether or not cities have open data — but what do we even mean when we say that data is open or not? Often, Sunlight policy experts review what governments make available and then assign rankings along a series of indicators. Sunlight’s Open States Report Card, for instance, checks whether legislative data are permanent, thorough and updated once or multiple times a day; the U.S. States Open Data Census considers whether state datasets are copyrighted, verifiable and in a state repository; and the Open Data Map simply determines whether or not an open data policy is in place.

The US City Open Data Census collects information about an array of datasets important for local-level governance. However, beneath the scores the census gives each city and the evaluations of transit or zoning data is a treasure trove of information about specific factors that help make data more “open” or accessible, such as whether datasets are provided in bulk, available in machine-readable formats and freely licensed. Continue...

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July 21, 2016 1:14 PM

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, which was designed to give the public the right to scrutinize the records of government agencies. Almost no one needs public records more than an organization like ProPublica, whose mission is producing work that “shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.”

Yet almost every reporter on our staff can recite aneurysm-inducing tales of protracted jousting with the public records offices of government agencies. Local, state and federal agencies alike routinely blow through deadlines laid out in law or bend them to ludicrous degrees, stretching out even the simplest requests for years. And they bank on the media’s depleted resources and ability to legally challenge most denials. Continue...

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July 20, 2016 3:09 PM

It seems that two and a half years may not prove enough time to coalesce Virginia's various ideas of what constitutes a trade secret into a single code section that clarifies, among other things, what documents companies that do business with the government can shield from public view.

Five meetings of a working group dedicated to the issue have failed to reach consensus between state agencies that currently have their own varying ideas of what constitutes a proprietary record not subject to release under the state's Freedom of Information Act. Now the study subcommittee that tasked this working group to the issue will take one more stab at the matter before abandoning it to move on to other still-pending questions in a three year review of the open records laws that is slated to wrap this year. Continue...

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July 20, 2016 2:11 PM

A federal judge has denied the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida's request for records pertaining to the use of StingRay cellphone surveillance devices in the Sarasota area.

Tampa U.S. District Court Judge Steven D. Merryday ruled Friday that the ACLU's argument that the city of Sarasota should produce correspondence or records related to a police detective's use of a StingRay device was "without proof." Continue...

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July 20, 2016 1:51 PM

Gov. Bruce Rauner has signed a law that could help families fighting to learn the truth about the death of loved ones.

Rauner signed legislation today that strengthens Illinois' Freedom of Information Act by increasing fines for public bodies that fail to comply with court orders to release information. Continue...

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July 19, 2016 12:07 PM

The New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case brought by an open-government activist who contends that the public should be allowed to view electronic data and metadata kept by local government agencies.

In summer 2013, John Paff requested a log of the emails sent by the Galloway Township police chief and the township clerk during a two-week period in June 2013, and then sued in an Ocean County court when his request was denied. Continue...

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July 19, 2016 11:58 AM

Tackling a county budget may seem daunting, but Smart Cville tactfully lays out Albemarle’s budget in a spread of colors with its new budget visualization tool that illustrates how your money helps the county.

Smart Cville, a locally based nonprofit, aims to open up data, plain and simple. Creator Lucas Ames, 35, sent out a letter in mid-April requesting that Charlottesville adopt an open data resolution. In mid-June, the mayor convened a meeting to discuss open data as the city continues its work to further improve open-data relations between city legislatures and citizens. Continue...

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July 19, 2016 11:31 AM

A training seminar on ethics and open government will be held in El Paso on Wednesday by the Austin-based Texas Center for Municipal Ethics.

The full-day seminar is open to anyone that wants to register, but organizers said city officials such as city managers, city secretaries, elected officials and city attorneys from the region are encouraged to attend the “Integrity at City Hall” training. Continue...

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