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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April 27, 2015 12:20 AM

DeFuniak Springs City Councilman Kermit Wright really, really, really doesn’t like Florida’s open-government, or sunshine, laws. And he doesn’t mind saying so. “The sunshine law is a communist plot straight out of Stalin,” he told the Daily News’ Tom McLaughlin the other day. “I don’t like it or anything that restricts free speech. It’s against everything I stand for.”

Mr. Wright was commenting on a former police captain’s lawsuit alleging sunshine law violations in DeFuniak Springs. There’s no reason to believe that Wright, who was elected in 2011 and recently re-elected, has broken any laws. But his assertion that open-government requirements are a commie plot begs for a response.

We suspect the thugs who ran Josef Stalin’s Russia had no use for open meetings, open records and transparent decision-making. Soviet tyranny operated amid secrecy, not openness. It’s nonsense to think that Stalin — or Khrushchev or Brezhnev or any of Russia’s other hard-liners from the old days — begat today’s sunshine laws. Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:17 AM

Akron City Council often flouts rules designed to allow the public to follow city government and weigh in on proposals before they become law.

Akron's city charter requires legislation to be posted online by noon Friday, in advance of Monday City Council meetings, to give residents the weekend to review proposals. But council regularly blows by the deadline, and sometimes legislation is changed or rewritten hours before it's voted into law, without any opportunity for members of the public to respond.

The process is exacerbated by council's habit of suspending rules that require reading legislation three times before passage. More often than not, legislation is either passed after one reading or are bundled with other pieces in what is known as a consent agenda and approved without discussion by a single vote. Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:14 AM

A Freedom of Information Act request from the Sunlight Foundation has turned into federal policy on agency data holdings, the foundation reported.

Earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget posted updated guidance to the Project Open Data GitHub that instructs agencies to "include all 'non-public' data assets in their [Public Data Listing], in addition to the 'public' and 'restricted' data assets that have long been required," according to an announcement from the foundation. The update also requires agencies to explain their reasons for any non-public designations and redactions in the metadata.

"Essentially, this reframes the PDL to be a public version of the full [enterprise data inventory]," OMB senior analyst Jamie Berryhill wrote in the GitHub posting. "Because the only difference between an agency's full EDI and the agency's PDL will be the existence of any needed redactions, agencies no longer need to submit an EDI to OMB unless their PDL contains any redactions." Continue>>>
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April 27, 2015 12:11 AM

The head of a local open government group called on Governor Markell to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for information about a "secret" state email account.

Delaware Coalition for Open Government president John Flaherty told WDEL News the Freedom of Information Act itself requires transparency on the part of elected officials conducting government business.

"It talks about that public business be performed in an open and public manner, and unless it's specifically excluded, public documents like emails are part of the public record, and they should be disclosed," said Flaherty. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 12:14 PM

An immigration attorney accusing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of a “Kafkaesque” failure to comply with a document request on Tuesday urged a Louisiana federal court to order the agency to hand over the documents he says he needs to properly represent his client in deportation proceedings.

Michael W. Gahagan, an attorney at The Immigration Law Firm of New Orleans, says in his summary judgment motion that USCIS cannot show that it has conducted a legally adequate search and that it hasn’t improperly withheld agency records. Gahagan had initially requested one document — a receipt notice for USCIS Form I-485 — an application to register permanent residence or adjust status for his client Lloyd Patterson, but instead received a “document dump” of 509 pages of unrelated information, he says.

Gahagan says that amid that dump, he noticed the USCIS failed to hand over 33 responsive pages within 20 days as part of his Freedom of Information Act request. The agency had indicated it referred the documents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but he said he’s skeptical. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 12:09 PM

The city of Cincinnati says it is enhancing transparency by sharing the city’s data with the general public in a new way.

Open Data Cincinnati will allow anyone to browse through various datasets of information collected by the city to document how the government operates, officials said at an announcement Wednesday.

"The city believes giving the data to the public will encourage residents to help come up with creative tools to engage, improve and serve the community. The long-term vision is for the new portal to improve customer service, increase accountability and stimulate economic activity through data sharing," the city said in a news release. Continue>>>

April 24, 2015 12:05 PM

The House GOP met behind closed doors Tuesday to discuss their strategy regarding a possible expansion of Medicaid. The move has raised the ire of the Democrats and open government advocates, but it seems there’s very little that can be done.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) says the House Republican caucus met Tuesday morning to discuss the history of LIP, or low income pool funding.

“Really more than anything it was a history lesson,” he said, “explaining to our members what we have behind us.” Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 11:59 AM

The push for open government and open data by federal officials, as well as authorities across many states and cities, can seem an unmitigated good. Talk to journalists, however, and there are myriad areas where they believe government at all levels is still being less than transparent — and less than helpful in revealing facts that the public is entitled to know.

Scholars who study transparency initiatives point out the ambiguities inherent in many transparency projects, the modest real outcomes in most cases, and even the potential downsides of “naked government” or the possibility of using the banner of transparency to whitewash or conceal. For example, the Obama administration has said it has a “lot to brag about” in terms of responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and in 2014 alone it “processed 647,142 FOIA requests, and over 91% of those requests resulted in the release of either some or all of the requested records,” according to press secretary Josh Earnest. However, the Associated Press did its own analysis and concluded that the Obama administration set a “new record” for denying records in 2014. (This debate comes as the federal government continues to field more and more requests from citizens and firms of all kinds, in addition to journalists.)

Meanwhile, open-data initiatives such as Data.gov have been criticized by journalists for the perceived lack of useful datasets, even if businesses have leveraged some of the data streams. And at all levels, it is unclear if merely releasing datasets meaningfully contributes to public knowledge or understanding. Part of the cognitive dissonance might be explained by the fact that even the original “open data” agencies, such as the federal government’s principal statistical agencies (the Census Bureau, for example), have struggled to keep up with the pace of Web innovation, from user-centric design and interactive applications to search and mobile optimization. Continue>>>
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April 24, 2015 11:08 AM

A showdown between the mayor of the District of Columbia and the first-ever elected attorney general has been averted for now.

At issue is Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposal in her new budget to water down some of the new attorney general’s powers, particularly when it comes to reviewing government contracts.

After a five-hour council roundtable on the dispute Wednesday, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie issued a statement saying the matter needs more public discussion and it appears the mayor and attorney general agree. continue>>>
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April 23, 2015 1:37 PM

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge will hold a statewide meeting via telephone Thursday to educate the public about the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.

The meeting will be the first in a series of informational meetings, both traditional and webcast, to inform Arkansans about the Freedom of Information Act.

"Arkansas has a strong FOIA that is regarded across the country as one of the best at holding government accountable and helping citizens stay informed," Rutledge said in a news release. "As the people's lawyer, I am committed to protecting the democratic ideal of an open and transparent government and helping educate Arkansans about the FOIA. I am excited to use technology in an innovative way to help bring Arkansans closer to their government." Continue>>>
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April 23, 2015 1:29 PM

Buried in a massive Pew study on the public's feelings about data and open government is this amazing nugget: Just 23 percent trust the federal government to do the right thing "at least most of the time."

Twenty three percent! That's unpopularity-of-Congress territory. Journalist-trust territory! Donald Trump's approval ratings look down on those numbers!

Not surprisingly, how you feel about the federal government depends somewhat on your party affiliation. Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, a function of the fact that the "government" is currently represented, symbolically speaking, by a Democratic president. Those splits would likely reverse themselves if a Republican was in the White House. Continue>>>
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April 23, 2015 1:25 PM

Ohioans should not have to bear the expense and aggravation of going to court to force government officials to comply with the open records law, state Auditor Dave Yost believes. To make it easier to get documents, Yost announced a month ago he was establishing a "Sunshine Audit" program.

But for every champion in government of the public's right to know, there are dozens of opponents - officials who see it as a good thing that Ohioans sometimes can be denied access to information about how their tax dollars are being spent. With speed and efficiency seldom seen in government, some legislators are poised to shut down Yost's program before it gets off the ground.

Yost has a simple idea: Currently, if state agencies refuse to hand over documents sought by members of the public, recourse is limited. Those seeking the documents can go to court, but that can be expensive in both time and money. Most people just give up trying to get government records. Public officials know that. They understand that stonewalling, even in the knowledge they are violating the open records law, often can turn away requests for information. Continue>>>
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