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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September 23, 2014 8:54 AM

A bitter dispute pitting Republican political consultants against groups who challenged Florida's congressional map spilled out in front of the state's highest court on Friday.

The Supreme Court has been asked to decide whether or not secret evidence should have been used during a landmark redistricting trial. The evidence, which included 31 pages of emails and documents, was reviewed by the judge but has not been made public.

The documents belong to employees of a Gainesville-based GOP political consulting firm who were not directly named in the lawsuit that challenged Florida's 27 congressional districts. But the groups that sued, which included the League of Women Voters of Florida, contend the documents proved that the consultants worked in concert with Republican legislators to violate the state's Fair Districts amendments. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:53 AM

During the legislative session and when lawmakers are not in session, the Legislatureís website at legis.sd.gov provides a wealth of information about proposed laws, committee hearings and votes. But the website is only valuable if information that the public has a right to know is made available.

Despite claims by lawmakers and state government officials that South Dakota is taking great strides toward transparency, much of what public officials and elected representatives are up to remains hidden.

While Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken the initiative to make state government more open and created a website (open.sd.gov) where the public can go to get information about local and state governments, his Open Government Task Force failed miserably, in our view, when only three of its recommended bills ñ minor ones at that ñ were passed by the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers, apparently, don't share the governor's view on transparency in government. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:51 AM

The more transparent and open governments can be, the better for everyone. To most people, transparency has to do with disclosure. Providing information about an issue, event, project, policy, program etc. and then providing a way for people to find and view that information.

Typically, that would suffice. However, when the term is applied in our system of government that particular definition does not go far enough to meet the publicís (expected) definition of transparency. In a democratic government, transparency should be defined as disclosure and discussion.

Transparency means helping the public understand how and why decisions that influence them are made. It means being accountable to the taxpayer. It's much easier to issue edicts with little or no explanation, give canned responses (we appreciate your input..), and clock out at the end of the day without a care because you have the power and no one is allowed to question you. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:50 AM

Some or all members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors often gather at a restaurant following their regularly scheduled voting meetings. The media has not received advanced notice of such meetings. To learn about these meetings, a reporter must attend the board meeting and then hope to be invited or overhear the board members discuss where they plan to eat.

The City Wire recently asked several members of the Board if they considered the restaurant meetings a violation of the meetings rules or a violation of the spirit of the rules. In his response, City Director Mike Lorenz acknowledged that 'some directors have dinner together after nearly every board meeting and have for at least the past year and a half that I have been a member of the board. Each time the media is invited and notified verbally in person when this takes place.'

The experience of The City Wire's two reporters who attend board meetings is that such an invitation is not always made. The only time reporters with The City Wire attended one of the restaurant meetings is when we overheard a discussion, and a board member who observed that we overheard the conversation offered us an invitation. On another night, a reporter by coincidence saw a group of board members at a restaurant. Only when the board members saw the reporter was he invited to sit with them. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:49 AM

Jon Daniel was watching cartoons with one of his sons when he created a spoof Twitter account in the name of the Peoria mayor. Out of boredom, he said, he soon began sending profane messages about sex, drugs and alcohol.

Daniel never intended for the fake account to be seen by anyone other than his friends, and it never attracted more than a few dozen followers. But within weeks the raunchy parody led to a police raid of his home and ignited a debate about online satire, free speech and the limits of a mayor's power.

Now Daniel is taking the matter to federal court in a lawsuit alleging the city violated his civil rights. The 29-year-old, who works as a tavern cook in his hometown, modeled the tweets on those of other fake accounts that lampoon sports stars by tweeting in a voice that appears drunk. He was dumbfounded when Twitter suspended the account. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:29 AM

Uncovering information that should be available to the public has become increasingly difficult under the presidency of Barack Obama, an Associated Press bureau chief says. In some cases, it surpasses the secrecy of the George W. Bush administration.

The White House's penchant for secrecy does not just apply to the federal government, according to AP's Washington bureau chief, Sally Buzbee. During a joint meeting of news editors, she stated that the same kind of behavior is starting to appear in state and local governments.

Buzbee pointed out eight ways that the Obama administration is stifling public access to information ñ including keeping reporters away from witnessing any military action the United States takes as it battles Islamic State extremists in the Middle East. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:27 AM

When I sat down Tuesday in front of the State Government Committee to testify in support of House Bill 2408, I had no idea what to expect or how warm the group would be to this significant open government legislation.

In my 13 months here, I haven't felt a lot of warm and fuzzy feelings toward the free flow of information between government and the people it serves.

HB 2408 would make posting of public agendas mandatory for all government bodies. It also would require the government entity to specifically identify the topics for discussion and for action and not stray from that agenda. In other words, tell the people you serve what you will discuss and how you're going to spend their money before you do it. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:25 AM

Public notice requirements are inscribed in Nebraska statutes for many reasons, but good government is at the top of the list. Public notices ensure Nebraskans an opportunity to participate in their government and to track what's happening at city hall, at the county courthouse and in the assortment of entities that serve and regulate them.

So many areas of our lives are touched by government it is key that the people in charge are open and accountable. Public notices ó published in newspapers ó are an integral part of good government.

In Nebraska, public notices inform newspaper readers when their elected boards and agencies plan to meet, what they'll be discussing and how they are spending tax dollars. Public notices also invite participation. People need to know when there's a rezoning request pending on an empty lot down the street. They need to know how government spending might affect taxes. They need to know because these issues and many others have a direct effect on their lives. People deserve the opportunity to speak out for their own interests. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:24 AM

It sounds like something out of a spy novel: clandestine after-hours meetings, burner phones, even encryption. But it isn't. Instead, it's a description of some of the steps that reporters covering the federal government must take to try to protect their sources.

This depressing portrait emerged last week at the joint conference of the American Society of News Editors and the Associated Press Media Editors, which I attended. Top editors of the Associated Press described to the group of several hundred editors how access to government information and decision-makers has become increasingly limited under President Barack Obama's administration.

Washington bureau chief Sally Buzbee told how one of AP's reporters was told by her sources that they'd be fired if they were caught talking to her ó even to provide routine information. Continue>>>
 

ASNE, Massachusetts
September 22, 2014 8:21 AM

Steve Toth has lived his entire life in southwest Detroit, and his family home is among those expected to be demolished to make way for a new public bridge to Canada pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

But Toth, who has waited with increasing frustration for a state offer to buy his home on South Crawford, said he feels stymied in his efforts to get information about the government's intentions: Snyder moved planning for the proposed New International Trade Crossing into his office after the Legislature approved budget language barring the Michigan Department of Transportation from spending money on the project.

Toth, aware the governor's office is exempt from the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, said he tried and failed to get what he needed through phone calls with Snyder's staff. He felt his only recourse was to make FOIA requests to MDOT, which told him the records he sought did not exist. Continue>>>
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September 22, 2014 8:19 AM

The battle over access to public records has had fits and starts in Lansing, with mixed results as the Legislature has taken up bills that would expand or restrict access.

All that have passed restrict access to information, while measures that would make access easier and less expensive have stalled. ìIn this era of online access to records, itís so easy to make public records available,î said Jane Briggs Bunting, president of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government. ìBut the Legislature seems hell-bent on making the public less aware and less knowledgeable.î

For example, the Michigan Press Association is trying to work with the Legislature to open sealed records if a person with a sealed juvenile record commits a crime as an adult. Continue>>>
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September 19, 2014 9:41 AM

It's been six months since the Michigan House passed House Bill 4001, but the Senate has taken no action on it apart from referring the bill to the Government Operations Committee.

The bill, which drew bipartisan support in the House, promotes government transparency and accountability by modernizing the state's Freedom of Information Act. This law enables residents and journalists to request and obtain government records. The Mackinac Center relies on FOIA to conduct its public policy research and to promote government accountability; each year we file hundreds of FOIA requests.

A common complaint about the public records law is the cost imposed on individuals who request records. Agencies charge a per-page copying fee, as well as a search fee for a public employee to locate and copy the record. Stories of agencies charging exorbitant fees are common; the Mackinac Center holds the distinction of receiving a $6.8 million bill from the Michigan State Police for one FOIA request. (We chose to forego obtaining the records in order to avoid incurring a cost that exceeds our annual budget.) Continue>>>
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