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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August 28, 2013 1:38 PM

From Boston Globe staff reporter Todd Wallack via NEFAC: While writing a story recently about the Massachusetts state pharmacy board, I noticed something odd: Only half the board members showed up for a meeting last summer — too few for a quorum — but the board members went ahead with the meeting anyway and voted on one item after the next.

It turns out it was part of a much wider problem, raising questions about how frequently obscure boards comply with all the rules for public meetings throughout New England.

Usually, boards need a majority of members to show up for a meeting for any votes to count. But when I checked past Massachusetts pharmacy board minutes, I found at least two other cases where at least half the members were absent, but the rest of the members voted on items anyway.

Then it occurred to me if that if the problem existed with one licensing board operating under the state Department of Public Health, it might affect similar boards as well. So I decided to check the minutes.

Sure enough, after spending an hour flipping through a box full of documents at the DPH offices, I found six other boards had the same problem: The boards voted at least once on items even though they didn’t have enough members to hold a legal quorum.

Visit New England First Amendment Coalition for the rest.

New England First Amendment Coalition is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

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August 28, 2013 1:26 PM

From First Amendment Foundation:  It's that time again! FAF's annual Sunshine Seminars are just around the corner. These one day seminars provide an overview of Florida's public records and public meetings requirements in an informative and interactive format.

The seminars are helpful for anyone who uses public records as well as for agency employees who are required to stay current on the law. CLE credits from the Florida Bar are pending.

Dates and locations for the seminars:

  • Lake City - Oct. 16, 2013
  • Orlando - Oct. 17, 2013
  • Sarasota - Oct. 18, 2013
  • Miami - Oct. 21, 2013
  • Stuart - Oct. 22, 2013
  • Daytona Beach - Oct. 23, 2013
  • Jacksonville - Oct. 24, 2013

Mark this page for more details forthcoming.

First Amendment Foundation is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

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August 28, 2013 10:54 AM

From Mercer Island Reporter:  Those looking for a more transparent government are increasingly relying on public records to make it happen.

They hope the more documents they obtain, the clearer their view of what’s really going on behind closed doors in school districts, city halls and county buildings.

But there are those throughout the public sector convinced some of these Washingtonians are abusing the Public Records Act.

An alliance of government forces — whose members often are the targets of the records — tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to rewrite the act to make it easier to repel requesters whose motives they question.

Continue . . .

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August 27, 2013 10:36 AM

Opinion from Frank Gibson via The Leaf Chronicle:  It will not come as news to anyone that Tennessee’s public meetings and open records laws fall in the lower ranks when compared to the open government laws of the other 49 states.

Now a new study by the Better Government Association that claims Tennessee’s separate government conflict of interest and whistleblower protection laws rank higher than our “sunshine” and public records (Freedom of Information) statutes.

BGA, a Chicago-based government watchdog group, just released its Integrity Index, comparing those four vital government transparency laws in all 50 states.

[. . .]

To create the Index, the BGA measured state laws against “best practices” for the four types of statutes.

“The majority of states are failing miserably when it comes to enacting laws that enable regular citizens to fight corruption by attending public meetings, reviewing government documents and raising questions without fear of retribution,” the BGA reported.To create the Index, the BGA measured state laws against “best practices” for the four types of statutes.

Continue . . .

Frank Gibson is TPA’s public policy director [and a member of NFOIC's board of directors]. He can be reached at 615-202-2685 or at fgibson@tnpress.com.

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August 27, 2013 10:28 AM

From TheHill.com:  The Justice Department is being forced to hand over an index of every document amassed in its criminal investigation of former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

The federal court decision will grant the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) watchdog group a broad list of what documents the DOJ possesses and the reasons why Justice is arguing to withhold them from the public.

CREW first began pressing for the release of the investigatory materials in late 2010 when it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request after Ensign claimed that the DOJ had completed its investigation of him.

Continue . . .

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August 27, 2013 10:25 AM

From News-Gazette.com:  City Attorney Fred Stavins said that, even if they are public records, deleted text messages are impossible to recover, and the city's legal department provided The News-Gazette with its research to prove it.

In December 2012, city officials called around to various cellphone providers to determine how long those records are retained in the cell company's files.

[. . .]

AT&T: No records are kept of customers' text messages — that data can only be accessed on a customer's phone.

Continue . . .

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August 27, 2013 10:17 AM

From The Des Moines Register:  A new Iowa board may help resolve decades of tension between public records advocates and government officials.

On one side are officials who say that some Iowans have made dozens — even hundreds — of public records requests in recent years that have become so burdensome that at least one city office can’t function properly at times.

But on the other side are Iowans . . . who see themselves as citizen crusaders and aren’t bashful to remind people who object to their requests that the information is a public record.

Continue . . .

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August 27, 2013 10:06 AM

From The Salt Lake Tribune:  Utah Highway Patrol Cpl. Shawn Alton says his 2011 request to search a man’s SUV and trailer had the proper approval.

But court records show the Emery County attorney told Alton he didn’t have enough probable cause to search Jeffrey Lawrence’s vehicle two years ago on the side of Interstate 70.

Now it’s Lawrence with a court order — to dig around into what UHP did to investigate Alton and the unlawful search.

Third District Judge L.A. Dever on Wednesday ordered the UHP to provide Lawrence with records of its investigation into Alton. The ruling, however, could have a broader impact.

Continue . . .

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August 27, 2013 10:03 AM

From FederalNewsRadio.com:  New technologies and the cloud are making it easier for agencies to deal with the onslaught of Freedom of Information Act requests they've been receiving over the last few years.

FOIA-in-the-cloud is a growing trend among agencies that need to ease the paper and cost burdens.

Edith Pemberton, the manager of Information Management and Customer Relations at the Federal Housing Finance Agency, said the housing crisis over the last few years has had a huge impact in the number of FOIA requests.

She said the Department of Housing and Urban Development moved its FOIA system to the cloud in 2011 using FOIAxpress application from AINS to help deal with the deluge of requests.

Continue . . .

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August 27, 2013 9:57 AM

From the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:  As part of its Open Government Initiative, the Mackinac Center in July and August hosted four town hall meetings around Michigan to help educate residents about the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings acts.

Panelists included representatives from the ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan Press Association, The Center for Michigan/Bridge Magazine and the Michigan Coalition for Open Government.

You can watch a video of the Aug. 7 town hall in Troy at Mackinac.org.

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Michigan Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

 

August 27, 2013 9:53 AM

From Claremore Daily Progress:  Rogers County Clerk Robin Anderson is accusing a Claremore Daily Progress reporter of harassing her and her staff in a confrontation over public records.

Anderson called the sheriff’s office on Aug. 14 to complain that reporter Salesha Wilken created a disturbance in her office that afternoon.

Wilken had asked to see public meeting minutes and agendas not posted in county record books. Anderson and her staff refused Wilken’s request, prompting the reporter to question the apparent violation of the state’s Open Records law.

[...]

The report by Deputy Daniel Welch notes that Wilken provided an audio recording of the exchange the following day. The recording shows the reporter made no threats and no request to enter the inner-office.

Anderson claims Wilken illegally recorded the conversation. State law allows for such recordings as long as one party to the conversation is aware of it.

Continue . . .

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August 26, 2013 2:55 PM

From The Florida Senate:  Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) today announced the appointment of Barbara A. Petersen, President of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, to a legislative panel that will evaluate and recommend how to provide better public access to state financial records and contracts.

Called the User Experience Task Force, the group is tasked by law with developing and recommending a design for consolidating existing state-managed websites that provide public access to state operational and fiscal information into a single website.  The task force will begin work immediately and make recommendations to the Legislature prior to the 2014 Legislative Session.  The Senate President has one appointment to the four member panel.  
 
Photo of Barbara Petersen“Barbara Petersen is Florida's respected guardian of open records, open meetings and open government," said President Gaetz. “Her leadership of the First Amendment Foundation gives credibility and reliability to this important work.  Her expertise in advising public officials, the media, courts and citizens about access to records will lead to more transparency and user-friendliness through a consolidation of many complex and duplicative websites.”   
 
Barbara Petersen is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Florida State University College of Law. She has served as President of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation since 1995. Ms. Petersen previously served as staff attorney for the Joint Committee on Information Technology Resources of the Florida Legislature, where she worked exclusively on public records legislation and issues.

A passionate advocate of the public's right to oversee its government, Petersen is the author of numerous reports and articles on open government issues. She currently sits on the board of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), having served as its president and treasurer. Petersen also served as chair of Florida's Commission on Open Government Reform.
 
Ms. Petersen, along with other members of the task force, will serve without pay.

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The First Amendment Foundation is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

 

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