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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March 4, 2015 12:52 PM

Iowa District Court Judge Stuart Werling ruled Thursday in favor of Davenport in a Freedom of Information Act case.

Judge Werling said the city "substantially complied" with requests by Dr. Allen Diercks and Patricia Lane for public records related to work done by the accounting firm Deloitte and Touche LLC, from Dec. 12, 2012 to March 8, 2013.

Along with the city, the suit listed city administrator Craig Malin and Davenport deputy city clerk Jackie Holecek as co-defendants. Continue>>>
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March 4, 2015 12:51 PM

Gov. Susana Martinez has agreed to release monthly reports that detail the spending of security officers who travel with her, part of an agreement reached with The Associated Press in a public records case.

Under the settlement, the governor's attorneys agreed that the information in the procurement card reports relates to public business and falls under New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act.

The news organization sued the governor and administration agencies in 2013 for refusing to release records about her work and travel schedules, cellphone calls, and the expenses of her security detail. The parties filed papers Tuesday to dismiss the original lawsuit. continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:35 PM

Taser International, the stun-gun maker emerging as a leading supplier of body cameras for police, has cultivated financial ties to police chiefs whose departments have bought the recording devices, raising a host of conflict-of-interest questions.

A review of records and interviews by The Associated Press show Taser is covering airfare and hotel stays for police chiefs who speak at promotional conferences. It is also hiring recently retired chiefs as consultants, sometimes just months after their cities signed contracts with Taser.

Over the past 18 months, Taser has reached consulting agreements with two such chiefs weeks after they retired, and it is in talks with a third who also backed the purchase of its products, the AP has learned. Taser is planning to send two of them to speak at luxury hotels in Australia and the United Arab Emirates in March at events where they will address other law enforcement officers considering body cameras. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:24 PM

The Beecher School District paid nearly $250,000 to avoid two lawsuits over alleged sexual misconduct by a former public school administrator.

But no lawsuit was ever filed, so taxpayers did not have easy access to this information because of a state law that allows public bodies to enter into non-disclosure clauses that bar either side from discussing specifics of a case.

The result is a Catch-22 that requires taxpayers to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a document they may not even know exists. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:16 PM

When Congress last updated federal open government laws in 2007, it created a new ombudsman intended to serve as an honest broker between Freedom of Information Act requestors and agencies. But unlike most other ombudsmen, this one works for one of the parties in the disputes it's supposed to mediate. Pending legislation would change that by making the Office of Government Information services (OGIS) truly independent from the executive branch.

The proposed change is part of a large package of updated FOIA reforms Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced earlier this month. The lawmakers' goal is to revive and update legislation that passed both houses of Congress last year but finally died in December because the chambers couldn't work out their differences.

This year's version, similar to the previous one, would create a "presumption of openness," placing the burden on agencies to prove that FOIA requests should be denied. Among its other provisions, the bill also would raise the profile of OGIS, which already is in charge of mediating FOIA disputes and making recommendations to Congress to improve the FOIA process. But as of now, OGIS is housed within the National Archives and Records Administration, and like the rest of the executive branch, ultimately reports to the White House. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:05 PM

Some lawmakers in Springfield are again trying to make government less transparent.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, a Republican from Rockford, has filed House Bill 261. If passed, it will end the publication of all public notices in newspapers in favor of government websites. The legislation states that when a law, court order, or contract requires a governmental unit to provide notice by publication in a newspaper, that governmental unit may publish the notice on an official government website instead of in a newspaper.

You might recall a similar assault of transparency occurred in 2011, when a nearly identical bill was filed. It was unsuccessful. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 1:02 PM

A formal opinion from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge today says that most of former state treasurer employee Sam Swayze's records should be released as the office custodian of records intended to do.

Swayze is Treasurer Dennis Milligan's first cousin. He was hired despite a state law prohibiting Milligan from hiring his first cousin. Milligan has said he didn't know of the law and dismissed Swayze from his $63,000 job after learning it was illegal. Freedom of Information Act requests were made for Swayze's personnel records. Swayze objected.

By law, the attorney general reviewed. The review concluded that the records should be released. It said some permissible information had been redacted, but the office said it disagreed with one small decision — to redact the amount of leave time Swayze had accrued in his month on the job. Continue>>>
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March 3, 2015 12:57 PM

Years after one of its researchers published studies linking mountaintop mining to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses, West Virginia University must defend its refusal to release thousands of documents pertaining to the studies a mining company requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

Highland Mining Co. vs. West Virginia University School of Medicine goes before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals March 4, one of five cases the court will hear at the WVU College of Law in Morgantown. It stems from a series of research articles published by Michael Hendryx, formerly professor and interim chair of WVU's Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership in the School of Public Health from 2011-13 and director of the West Virginia Rural Health Research Center from 2008-13.

Hendryx, now a professor with the University of Indiana Bloomington, said he stands by his research and said the case “comes down to an important question of academic freedom.” Continue>>>
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March 2, 2015 1:25 AM

S.C. Rep. Chris Corley maintains that a recently passed bill in the House would put unnecessary time constraints on government entities to process information requests.

Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt, however, said the time constraints can be overlooked because of a bigger compromise on the bill, which restricts inmates from filing Freedom of Information requests.

Corley, R-Graniteville, was the only member of the Aiken House Delegation to vote against bill H. 3191, or the Freedom of Information Act bill. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2015 1:22 AM

Honesty, decency and forthrightness are among the values that define South Dakotans. Another core value is a fundamental belief in the public’s right to know about their government. South Dakotans believe the public’s business should be conducted in public view.

That principle in government transparency is embedded in South Dakota’s open meetings laws, which date back more than a half century and direct state and local government boards on how they should conduct business in public.

A principle guiding our open meetings laws is that when at least a quorum of members of a government board is discussing official business, the state open meetings laws should be followed. In other words, among other things, an agenda of the meeting should be provided in advance of the meeting and the public should have the opportunity to witness the meeting. That principle applies whether the government board is meeting in person or by teleconference or video-conference. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2015 1:17 AM

The village of Oakley has released 13 pages of names and financial information in response to a Saginaw News request for the names of donors to the Oakley Police Department.

However, at least some of those listed, including Saginaw County 911, deny donating to the department.

The village of Oakley sent the documents, which identify roughly 150 entities, in response to a Freedom of Information Act Request from The Saginaw News seeking the names, amounts and dates of donors to the police fund. Continue>>>
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March 2, 2015 1:14 AM

Representatives of the University of Connecticut Foundation made an impassioned argument at a legislative hearing Thursday that any law forcing them to open their records to the public — even if donors' name are excluded — would impede their efforts to raise money.

And it seemed from the response of the legislators on the higher-education committee that most — though not all — agreed with that argument.

Daniel Toscano, a member of the foundation board and a donor, said the legislation under consideration, which would make the foundation subject to the state Freedom of Information Act, "will most definitely have a chilling effect on the philanthropy that is essential to building and maintaining a top-notch flagship university. Continue>>>
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