FOI Advocate News Blog

Syndicate content

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

February 17, 2015 2:30 AM

In 1788, revolutionary leader Patrick Henry said: “The liberties of people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”

That basic democratic principle is still important more than 200 years later.

Watchdogs, including the Better Government Association, rely on Illinois’ Freedom of Information Act to obtain most public records, which enables us to shine a light on government and hold officials accountable for the way they spend our tax dollars and make policy decisions that affect our lives. Continue>>>

February 17, 2015 2:27 AM

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s chief of staff ordered top city officials to respond to a public records request within 48 hours after the Globe reported it took the administration more than two months to provide basic payroll data.

Chief of staff Daniel Koh sent an e-mail Friday to the city’s Cabinet chiefs and department heads.

Koh wrote that if a response is not possible within 48 hours, a department must provide a detailed explanation. The response would be reviewed by Koh and the mayor, according to the memo. Continue>>>

February 17, 2015 2:23 AM

I have a 20-year frustration about something in Texas, a problem I’ve never solved, an itch that won’t go away.

Texas has a remarkable law. It’s called the Texas Public Information Act. The TPIA is supposed to remove any steel doors protecting local, county, school and state governments from prying eyes — and replace them with glass walls.

Transparency. Sunshine. Openness. Continue>>>

February 17, 2015 2:18 AM

A bill inspired by the Oakwood Hills power plant debacle to make it easier to report Illinois Open Meetings Act violations will likely get a minor tweak to help its odds of passage.

House Bill 175, filed last month by Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, seeks to allow people to report a violation of the act within 60 days of its discovery. Current law limits the reporting period to 60 days from the date of the meeting in question, meaning that violations discovered after that date cannot be reported to the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

McSweeney said he likely will amend the bill to set a five-year limit on how far back an illegal meeting took place. While the bill generally has gotten positive feedback, McSweeney said, some lawmakers have raised concerns that people could make unduly burdensome requests for decades worth of meeting minutes. Continue>>>

February 17, 2015 2:16 AM

Congress is currently considering changes to improve the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and that’s a good thing. While the FOIA is very useful, it’s not a silver bullet, and it’s certainly time to consider improving the Act.

During the course of the Obama Administration, Americans for Limited Government has filed hundreds of FOIA requests going to every Executive Branch department and many of the independent agencies.

How well these requests are handled varies widely. There have been times when we have requested records and those records have been released within a reasonable amount of time. Continue>>>

February 17, 2015 2:11 AM

Legislators like to say they can’t legislate morality, although they keep trying, because they can.

The same can be said for open government. No matter how many laws are passed or how many court orders are issued, people in power will find shady spots in the “Sunshine” law, because they can.

There’s a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court, filed by a group of news organizations and open-government advocates, accusing Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet of breaking the “Government in the Sunshine” law in the Gerald Bailey firing. Basically, it says they used Cabinet aides as “conduits” to get the foul deed done, without public discussion of ousting the highly respected Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner. Continue>>>

February 16, 2015 11:11 AM

The Freedom of Information Act, first enacted in 1966, allows the public to see how their government functions – and fails to function – by providing access to official records. In fiscal year 2013, government agencies released some or all of the information sought in 440,997 requests.

But too often, information that should be released isn’t because agencies invoke one of nine exemptions spelled out in the law, ranging from protections for personal privacy to considerations of national security. Critics have focused especially on the overuse of an exemption for “inter-agency or intra-agency” documents that has come to be known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. ...

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015. Like a similar bill in the House, it would require that agencies operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of information and would limit the exemption for so-called deliberative letters and memos – written by policymakers during the decision-making process – to those less than 25 years old. Continue>>>

February 16, 2015 11:05 AM

College environmentalists are using public records laws to investigate the circumstances surrounding the hiring of an economist at the University of Kansas (KU) who has spoken out against wind subsidies, according to his attorney.

Dr. Art Hall, executive director of the Center for Applied Economics at the university, found himself at the center of an environmentalist campaign after testifying to the state legislature that Kansas should do away with green energy quotas in the spring of 2014. Shortly after his testimony, Schuyler Kraus, a KU student and environmentalist, submitted a public records request demanding all of his email correspondence dating back to 2004.

“In light of recent testimony made by Dr. Arthur P. Hall in favor of S.B. 433, an effort to repeal Kansas Renewable Portfolio Standards, Students for a Sustainable Future (SSF) endeavors to bring KU students and Kansas citizens greater transparency regarding Dr. Hall’s background, connections, and affiliations to disclose significant conflicts of interest,” the records request begins. “The processes by which Dr. Hall and others were hired at KU were orchestrated by Charles and/or David Koch.” Continue>>>

February 16, 2015 11:03 AM

Controversial professor Steven Salaita will be able to pursue his Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the University of Illinois for refusing to release documents about his case.

Champaign County Judge Chase Leonhard on Friday rejected the university's motion to dismiss the case, but he also agreed to strike portions of the complaint outlining the circumstances and fallout from the UI's decision to withdraw its job offer to Salaita.

"This is not a political arena" but a FOIA case, Leonhard said in issuing his order. "We're not here today on the merits of any claim." Continue>>>

February 16, 2015 10:45 AM

The state health agency is using a law backed by the Jindal administration to conceal its recommendations for $600 million to $700 million in budget cuts.

State Department of Health and Hospitals officials said the public will know where the reductions will be made on Feb. 27, when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office submits the proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

DHH denied a public records request by The Advocate for a copy of budget options the agency submitted to the governor’s budget arm. The options were submitted in response to an administration directive to prepare for state funding cuts of $200 million to $300 million. With the federal matching funds state dollars attract, the cuts escalate to $600 million to $700 million. Continue>>>

February 16, 2015 10:42 AM

People say they want government to run more efficiently, like a business. What happens when governments are tested the way businesses are?

Mystery shopping is part of the business world. Customers secretly test a business as mystery shoppers, then grade the results.

The Dallas Morning News committed a team of six journalists for a year to mystery shop 113 branches of government on how well they followed the state’s vital open records law. Continue>>>

February 16, 2015 10:33 AM

The state attorney general has issued an opinion clarifying how the public can access mug shots of people who have been arrested – an issue raised by the Daily Press last fall when it took months of requests to different agences to obtain a booking photo of a former police chief.

In the opinion, released earlier this month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says local law enforcement agencies must release mug shots from arrests if they have them.

However, he specifies that booking photos stored in a state criminal history database fall outside Virginia's Freedom of Information Act. Continue>>>

Syndicate content