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 13, 2014 1:22 AM

Ever wonder what local government does behind closed doors at open meetings? If so, a bill currently being reviewed by state representatives aims to bring more transparency to executive sessions.

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Rick Saccone, a Republican representing Allegheny and Washington counties.
“I talked to people around the state and there’s great support,” Saccone said Wednesday during a public hearing before the House State Government Committee. “Everyone seems to see the need to reform executive session.”

If House Bill 1671 is signed into law, it would amend the Sunshine Act, a law designed to guarantee public access to governmental agency meetings and deliberations. The bill is meant to deter local governmental bodies from holding executive sessions, or closed-door meetings, that don’t fall within the criteria of the Sunshine Act, according to Saccone. Continue>>>
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March 13, 2014 12:11 AM

Legislators in California and Illinois are working on transparency measures that would bring more of the public’s business out in the open. Yesterday, both houses of the Illinois statehouse passed a measure that will require state agencies to ensure that more information gets on to the state transparency portal faster. In California, a package of bills, known as the California Accountability in Public Service, or CAPS Act were proposed.

The Illinois bill currently on the Governor’s desk will not only compel state agencies to release updated information more quickly, it also establishes a position in the governor’s office to go out and collect data from agencies.

The bill is the result of existing open data practices at state agencies which leave a little to be desired. The state has a Transparency and Accountability Portal, but information on there isn’t updated all that frequently even though both parties support greater government transparency. The governor is expected to sign the bill into law shortly. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2014 4:55 AM

The Chicago Police Department can no longer keep misconduct records secret, a state appeals court has ruled.

The Illinois Freedom of Information Act doesn’t exempt “CR files,” which consist of misconduct complaints against officers and documents created during the investigations, the court found Monday.

The appeals court also found that “RL” files are open to the public. Those files identify police officers who have accumulated the most misconduct complaints. At issue were two RL files that named officers with the most complaints between 2001-2006 and 2002-2008.

University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman hailed the ruling, saying: “I really do think this is a watershed moment in Illinois in terms of police transparency and accountability.” Continue>>>
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March 12, 2014 3:44 AM

Half of the federal agencies handling the bulk of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are failing at their transparency obligations, a government watchdog group reported Monday.

The Center for Effective Government surveyed the 15 federal agencies handling 90 percent of FOIA requests and found none of them were performing well. No agency earned an overall “A” grade, and seven received failing grades.

“The fact that no agency achieved a top grade across all three areas illustrates the difficulty agencies are having with implementation overall,” Katherine McFate, president of the Center for Effective Government, told McClatchyDC. “Agencies face a variety of challenges, depending on their request loads, the kind of information they manage, and the manpower they have available to do the job. But there is clearly much room for improvement." Continue>>>
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March 12, 2014 2:33 AM

Democracy depends on the informed and active participation of citizens at all levels of government. Democratic governmental bodies must protect a citizen's right to know by giving adequate notice of proposed actions, holding open meetings and making public records accessible. When our right to know is violated, democracy suffers.

The Colorado Sunshine Law provides for the transparent operation of state, county, and local governmental bodies in order to prevent private or secret deliberations and/or voting on matters that are within the public's jurisdiction. In the spirit of open government, the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) requires that most public records be available to the public. Both of these laws help to protect our right to know in a democracy.

On Monday, March 24, the League of Women Voters of Larimer County will host a panel discussion on "Transparency in Local Government: Why it is Essential to Democracy." The discussion will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at All Saints' Episcopal Church in Loveland, 3448 N. Taft Ave., and is scheduled to be held in conjunction with National Sunshine Week when communities throughout the country discuss the importance of an open government in a democracy. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2014 1:22 AM

Live, open government data – collated on third-party platforms – can change peoples’ lives profoundly in a wide variety of ways.

According to the UK’s Data.gov website: "The government has made releasing open data a priority because: it makes the government more accountable to citizens and strengthens our democracy (for example, the Department for International Development’s Aid Tracker); it brings us better public services (for example, The Guardian’s GCSE Schools Guide); and it feeds economic and social growth (for example, transport data intermediary Placr)."

The government says it leads the world in open data – but just what does this really mean? As it backtracks to explain its recent move to gather NHS patient data from primary care sources, it is a timely question. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2014 12:11 AM

Safeguarding open government is a constant struggle. Backsliding can happen easily if people aren’t vigilant.

We have a case in point right here in Sacramento on the eve of Sunshine Week, the annual series of events spotlighting the importance of public access to government.

Last April, Sacramento City Council members, in a welcome advance for openness, decided that all labor agreements and any contracts topping $1 million should be posted on the city’s website for at least 10 days before a council vote. The change to their rules of procedure took effect July 1.

Yet there was a proposal before council members to kill the 10-day rule for big contracts – at least until The Bee’s editorial board starting nosing around and a local watchdog group raised a stink. Continue>>>
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editorial
March 11, 2014 4:55 AM

Part of promoting better broadband in Minnesota is promoting better uses of broadband and one of my favorite uses is civic technology – or creating greater opportunities for civic engagement using technology. The easy example (especially given our current winter!) is Adopt-a-Hydrant, a website where residents can sign up to take responsibility for making sure that their adopted hydrant remains accessible. Usually that means shoveling it out after a snowstorm. It’s a huge task for the city to take on shoveling out each hydrant. It’s not so difficult when citizens can volunteer to take on one hydrant. It’s the essence of crowdsourcing – or the old adage many hands make light work. But they only way Adopt-a-Hydrant works is when the developers the website have access to the location of each hydrant. Access to the open data opens the door to greater civic engagement. It’s just one example.

Open data becomes valuable when developers know it’s available and are able to create applications that make the data useful (as happened at the Capitol Code event a couple weekends ago) and when citizens know that the applications are available. There is legislation being introduced to promote and facilitate access to open data and understanding of open government applications. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 3:44 AM

When Florida media groups are concerned about freedom of the press and open government, they turn to the First Amendment Foundation for help.

Pete Weitzel, former senior editor of the Miami Herald, founded the non-profit 30 years ago.

The foundation is funded through contributions. It provides training, legal aid, and the annual Government in the Sunshine Manual as a guide to Florida’s open meetings and public-records laws.

This is a busy time of year for foundation president Barbara Petersen. With the legislative session underway in Tallahassee, she’s lobbying lawmakers for more government transparency and fewer public records exemptions. Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 2:33 AM

Councils are not doing anything with valuable data that offers insight into the needs of communities, according to the local government thinktank Localis. In their report, based on interviews with council leaders in the UK, they said that local authorities could use data to find out what residents want in a similar way private companies such as Amazon do.

Council leaders said that, particularly around the integration of health and social care, partners were unwilling to share data and that a lack of knowledge about data protection laws was holding things back.

Camden council announced its digital strategy last week, setting out how technology and analysing data could help local authorities deliver services. Councillor Theo Blackwell said that the council wants to "realise how digital technology and big data can be a way to save money and improve services through co-production, collaboration and challenges by residents and businesses". Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 1:22 AM

Uncle Sam wants a few good innovators -- again. The White House has launched the third round of its Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program, which pairs tech-savvy entrepreneurs from the private sector with top government officials to tackle selected challenges facing the administration.

The program's "lean startup" approach has delivered a variety of tools, including ones that help the public save on utility bills and improve access to government health information, and it has brought acclaim to participants.

The White House will assign the latest round of applicants to one of 14 projects in six- to 12-month sprints focused on three major initiatives: Continue>>>
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March 11, 2014 12:11 AM

When folks are elected to public office — from local school boards to city councils to county commissions — many have little to no experience with state law regarding public access to government information.

#When the citizens (and media) seek information inadvertent mistakes are too often made because some elected officials simply don’t understand the who, what, where, when, why and how of the state’s open government laws.

#And, as a result, it costs taxpayers a lot to settle lawsuits.

#State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has been pushing for a state law to require open government training for most public officials. Last week, he got it. Legislation was approved by the Legislature. Continue>>>
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