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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November 6, 2014 10:44 AM

A number of local legislators have signed a pledge to keep the state’s Freedom of Information law intact, but most of those same legislators voted to weaken the law after the Sandy Hook school shooting.

In October the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information sent out a pledge to incumbent elected officials and candidates requesting that they support the FOI law, the independence of the FOI commission and require a public hearing for any bills that would weaken the law.

The council is a non-profit organization.The state’s FOI law exempts a host of documents including certain records related to medical information, police investigations, and state secrets. Continue>>>

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November 5, 2014 12:27 PM

It’s Tuesday evening at City Hall, and in a conference room scattered people chat animatedly while they start setting up their computers on one of six tables. A guy in his 40s wearing jeans, sneakers and a white beret with green stripes rushes into the room. He is carrying a case of soda and a package of plastic plates in one hand and a box of candies in the other. “Sorry I’m late, guys! Let’s get started,” he says in a very thick Australian accent. This is Steve “Spike” Spiker, the executive director and founder of OpenOakland, and he will run this Civic Hack Night as he has done for the past two years.

OpenOakland, which Spiker co-founded, tries to help Oaklanders be more engaged with each other and their local government. The group attempts to do so by creating digital tools to make the government more “open,” by which Spiker means that the government and staff are accessible—easy to connect with, easy to ask questions of—and that web services are simple to find and use. “It’s vital for trust, for effectiveness and for innovation,” Spiker said.

One of their latest projects, OpenDisclosure, which launched in early September, is helping shed light on the flow of money for Oakland’s mayoral election. The website, built in partnership with the city’s Public Ethics Commission, features campaign finance data submitted by campaigns or by individual donors for all Oakland mayoral candidates. Through tables, maps and charts, Oaklanders can learn which candidate has the highest percentage of contributions from Oakland donors, the percentage of personal funds they used on their campaigns, or who raised the most money in each ZIP code. Continue>>>
 

November 5, 2014 11:57 AM

SEATTLE — The Washington Liquor Control Board broke the state's open public meetings law 17 times as it began working on rules for the recreational marijuana industry, a judge ruled.

Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Schaller issued the ruling Friday in a case brought by Arthur West, a critic of the legal pot law. The judge said that although the board broke the law, it didn't take any actions at the meetings that would warrant throwing out the marijuana rules it eventually adopted.

The meetings at issue came in the first three months of 2013, soon after voters approved Initiative 502. As the three board members — Sharon Foster, Chris Marr and Ruthann Kurose — traveled around the state holding public hearings about the legal marijuana rules, they also sometimes met quietly with local police, officials and prevention groups. Continue>>>
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November 5, 2014 11:56 AM

WALLINGFORD — The state Freedom of Information Commission is expected to hear a complaint filed by Wallingford CT Councilor Craig Fishbein over whether Wallingford Center Inc. is a public entity.

Fishbein filed a complaint against the private, nonprofit organization in April 2014 because he believes WCI is a public entity that should disclose meeting minutes and make meeting agendas public. The Freedom Information Commission initially decided not to hear the complaint on administrative grounds since it only has jurisdiction over public agencies, FOI Public Education Officer Tom Hennick said.

(Fishbein) responded very thoroughly on why he thought they were a public agency,” Hennick said in a phone interview Monday. “In this case, there’s no doubt we’ll have to open it up.” Continue>>>
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November 5, 2014 11:54 AM

The Freedom of Information Act is supposed to make it easier for journalists and ordinary Americans to obtain documents and other information about how the federal government conducts its business. As such, it is one of the bedrocks of our democracy. “It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government,” boasts FOIA.gov, a website dedicated to the law.

Unfortunately, as has been woefully apparent for years, the law is not particularly user-friendly, and instead of making information more accessible, its application has resulted too often in information that should be made public becoming nearly impossible to obtain. In a May 2010 column for The New York Times, I wrote about my own difficulties in obtaining public documents from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve.

I also recounted President Obama’s determination, on his first full day in office, to change FOIA’s bad reputation by issuing an executive order to make the law easier to use by encouraging bureaucrats to err on the side of releasing information. His optimism was palpable. Continue>>>
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November 5, 2014 11:53 AM

Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald Castille and Attorney General Kathleen Kane must release an estimated 4,000 emails exchanged between Supreme Court justices and the attorney general's office to preserve public trust in Pennsylvania's judicial system, a coalition of legal experts said Tuesday.

In an open letter to Castille and Kane, the group said the release of hundreds of sexually explicit emails that retired Justice Seamus P. McCaffery exchanged with an agent in the attorney general's office was a first step toward transparency.

Those messages, however, represent only a small fraction of the emails that Castille and Kane have acknowledged were exchanged by justices with people in the attorney general's office, the letter says. Continue>>>

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November 5, 2014 11:51 AM

If Amsterdam, N.Y. Mayor Ann Thane spent as much time addressing reality as she does dodging it — or
giving it a fresh coat of white wash — she might have more time to fix what’s broken here on the home front.

The polarizing leader of this fair city is nearing the final year of her second term in office and as each day passes finds more ways to point the finger at everyone else, bemoaning their flaws and inabilities, instead of taking a good hard look at where the buck truly stops.

In her latest inexplicable denial of accountability, the mayor has spent the better part of three months rebuffing requests from this newspaper — via the Freedom of Information Act —for information pertaining to the financial status of the city of Amsterdam. This, from the same person who scheduled a forum on open government featuring the state’s go-to authority on thesubject, Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government. Continue>>>
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November 3, 2014 1:44 PM

Forty-seven years ago the Arkansas Legislature passed one of the most comprehensive and strongest open-records and open meetings laws in the United States. In fact, when the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act passed in 1967, it cruised through both the House and the Senate without a single dissenting vote. Then Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller called the act’s passage “one of the most significant achievements of his administrations”.

Just months later, the state’s highest court, the Arkansas Supreme Court, reaffirmed the FOIA and stated in its opinion, “We have no hesitation in asserting our conviction that the Freedom of Information Act was passed wholly in the public interest and is to be liberally interpreted to the end that its praiseworthy purposes may be achieved”.

The FOIA is a law that gives Arkansans access to public records and public meetings. It was passed with the intent to regulate governing bodies to comply with providing information on decisions they are making in the public’s behalf. Continue>>>

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November 3, 2014 1:43 PM

Today we have launched the Open Government Licence version 3.0. This follows consultation with users and other stakeholders in the open data community on how the Licence could be developed further to reflect new thinking on the licensing of public sector information.

The Open Government Licence (OGL) is part of the UK Government Licensing Framework (UKGLF) which was launched in 2010. The OGL permits the use and re-use of a wide range of government and other public sector information. This supports the government's policy on transparency and open data.

The basic terms and conditions of the Open Government Licence version 3.0 remain the same as the previous version. It continues to: 

  •     permit use and re-use of information in any format for both commercial and non-commercial purposes without charge
  •     require re-users to publish an acknowledgment of the source of the information
  •     exclude personal information from the licence
  •     be compatible with other licensing models, such as Creative Commons, and is Open Definition conformant

Continue>>>
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November 3, 2014 1:38 PM

Washington D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray appointed a 15-member advisory group Wednesday, one of several initiatives to roll out the open government directive he promulgated in July.

The Open Government Advisory Group is mostly composed of members of the administration, like Office of Open Government director Traci Hughes, Office of the Chief Technology Officer CTO Rob Mancini and Ayesha Abbasi from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

But there’s also a handful of open government advocates like Robert Becker, a board member of the D.C. Open Government Coalition, and Code for DC’s Justin Grimes. Continue>>>
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November 3, 2014 1:35 PM

When High Country News began using the Freedom of Information Act to gather official reports of threats against federal employees in the West, we didn't expect that the main obstacle would arise in one federal agency's headquarters.

Our intention was positive: By examining and summarizing the incidents, we hoped to ease tensions and encourage more respect for the federal employees as they go about their duties in the field.

So we were surprised by the poor performance of the Bureau of Land Management's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office in Washington, D.C. Its response to our request for public records can only be described as dysfunctional. Continue>>>
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November 3, 2014 1:34 PM

The First Amendment watchdog group and NFOIC affiliate member, Californians Aware is calling on the Garden Grove City Council to publicly apologize under threat of legal action for a violation of the state's open meetings law, after it withheld an investigative report on the fire department last week.

At the Oct. 14 City Council meeting, council members received a written report investigating management issues in the fire department.

The highly-anticipated report, which council members said would be disclosed at the meeting, details a lack of confidence in former Fire Chief Dave Barlag and frustration at the hiring of Mayor Bruce Broadwater's son Jeremy as a firefighter. Continue>>>
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