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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December 10, 2015 5:18 PM

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has weak legal and public policy grounds to defend his decision to withhold text messages between himself and the leadership of NV Energy, according to open government experts, if the examples in other states and cities were to be followed in Nevada.

Courts and attorneys general in at least 18 states have addressed the issue, of which “decisions have overwhelmingly favored public access,” according to a paper written by Joey Senat, a professor who teaches media law at Oklahoma State University.

As of 2014, the law in 15 states requires correspondence related to state business to be turned over in public records requests — even if that information is stored on private phones or computers.

“If you limit freedom of information laws to those communications that take place over government-owned channels, then you arbitrarily exclude communications — maybe even most communications — based on a meaningless distinction about which technology you used,” said Peter Scheer, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. Continue...

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December 10, 2015 5:14 PM

It may never publicly be revealed who from the Warren County jail took publicly-owned generators for personal use during Superstorm Sandy blackouts, but a court has ruled that the investigation into their actions is fair game.

Redacted records detailing the probe — but omitting the names of the accused or witnesses — should be released by the county, according to a New Jersey Appellate Division opinion released Wednesday.

The Appellate decision upholds a lower court's ruling from two years ago. It gives the county 30 days to release the records or appeal. Continue...

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December 10, 2015 5:09 PM

An attorney for the Jefferson County Education Association argued this week that a Colorado district court judge erred in ruling that teacher sick-leave records can be disclosed to the public.

The lower-court judge made the personnel exemption in the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) “an empty shell” when she narrowly defined confidential records to include only a public employee’s “personal” information, JCEA lawyer Sharyn Dreyer told a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals.

Interpreting CORA in this way would protect from disclosure “maybe one or two pieces of paper in an entire multi-volume personnel file,” Dreyer said during oral arguments. “It must be presumed that the legislature intended to create a genuine exemption that actually provides some meaningful protection for personnel records.” Continue...

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December 10, 2015 5:04 PM

Final passage of legislation to thwart hack attacks is being delayed as lawmakers clash over how best to protect the privacy of Americans' personal information.

Congress passed three different versions of cybersecurity legislation this year in the wake of high-profile hacks of U.S. companies and the federal government, including the massive attack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management that compromised the personal data of more than 21 million federal employees, job applicants and their families. Other major hacks targeted Sony Entertainment, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, Target, T-Mobile and the Internal Revenue Service.

Despite widespread agreement in Congress on the need to pass a cybersecurity bill, a final compromise on the legislation is taking longer than expected amid disagreements over which piece of legislation has the strongest privacy provisions. Continue...

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December 10, 2015 5:00 PM

An obscure board overseeing state public records gave so little notice of a move to sharply limit electronic records that it appears to have violated the state's open meetings law, attorneys and open records advocates say.

The changes have already had an impact — they were used by Gov. Scott Walker's administration as a reason not to release records just one day after the action was quietly taken in August by the Public Records Board, which oversees the preservation and handling of government records.

On Aug. 25, the day after the board's vote, the Walker administration denied a records request from a newspaper for text messages, saying officials do not have to retain such "transitory messages." Continue...

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December 9, 2015 5:29 PM

Through the Access to Public Records Act (APRA), the press requested information from Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration regarding the hiring of former state Rep. Donald Lally and Raimondo’s truck tolls proposal. The Raimondo administration’s responses to these and other APRA requests caused advocates for open government to criticize the administration for a “pattern of disturbingly inadequate APRA responses.”

Rhode Island’s APRA should be strengthened because, in the past, greater public access to government records destroyed a political machine, ended egregious payroll fraud, and exposed pension abuses.

Resisting public access to government records is a Rhode Island tradition. After the Second World War, as an iron curtain descended over Eastern Europe, a shroud of secrecy enveloped government records in two major Rhode Island cities controlled by Democratic political machines. In Pawtucket, the followers of deceased Mayor Thomas McCoy kept financial and payroll documents a secret. In Providence, Mayor Dennis Roberts refused to make payroll records public. Continue...

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December 9, 2015 5:26 PM

Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has found another novel method to deny the public access to government records.

In at least two recent cases, the administration says it doesn’t have to keep certain “transitory” records and therefore can’t release records it doesn’t have.

That judgment is based on the decisions of an obscure eight-member body appointed by the governor and other state officials to oversee state records retention policy. Continue...
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December 9, 2015 5:23 PM

Jeffco’s five new school board members will take about two hours at their next meeting to hear legal advice on “the Colorado Open Meetings Law, the Colorado Open Records Act, conflicts of interest and standards of conduct for local public officials.”

The sunshine-law training will be held behind closed doors in an executive session.

Attorneys associated with the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition said that general advice or teaching would not fall under the Open Meetings Law exemption for executive sessions, according to CFOIC executive director Jeff Roberts. The law allows elected bodies to go behind closed doors to seek specific legal advice — not general training, Roberts said. Continue...

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December 9, 2015 5:13 PM

Most of us saw recent news accounts of a Chicago police officer involved shooting that occurred one year ago. The dashcam video of that tragic incident shows a young man being shot in the back. Evidence was released last week that the young man was shot 14 more times as he lay on the ground, purportedly by the same officer’s gun.

That it took one year for that particular investigation to play out and for an arrest to be made is impossible to comprehend.

We’ve seen similar delays here in South Carolina in the release of dash cam videos that document police involved shootings. The well-known Zachary Hammond Case in Seneca comes to mind, but there is also a case in North Augusta where a dashcam video has not been released for well over a year. Continue...

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December 9, 2015 5:03 PM

Hillsborough County Attorney Chip Fletcher has told county commissioners they don’t need to retain many of their work-related emails and text messages, even though he acknowledges many of the communications may be considered public records under the state’s Sunshine Laws.

The controversial advice comes as the county faces questions about why commissioners didn’t initially turn over public emails and text messages requested by 10Investigates WTSP this summer. In October, when the county eventually provided more than 100 email exchanges between public relations consultant Beth Leytham and county commissioners on their private email accounts, commissioners blamed the failure to comply with the records request on a communications breakdown from the county attorney’s office.

Commission chairwoman Sandy Murman offered an apology for the delay in turning over records and for deleting text messages. Continue...

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December 8, 2015 5:00 PM

A state lawmaker wants to stop what he calls “snitching culture.” This is when community members are discouraged from talking to the police. But, one Sunshine Law group is concerned because the bill would block a witness’ information from the public.

State Rep. Edwin Narain, D-Tampa, filed a bill dealing with witnesses to felonies. The bill prohibits a witnesses’ identifying information — like names or addresses — from being released to the public. The exemption lasts until the end of the prosecution or the felony’s statute of limitations expires.

Narain said his bill is a response to a number of local murders where witnesses were scared to come forward.

But president of the First Amendment Foundation Barbara Petersen said the public should be allowed to make their own conclusions about a witness. Continue...

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December 8, 2015 4:53 PM

Veterans across the country are demanding answers after being exposed to toxic water for nearly three decades.

On Monday, three veterans groups filed a Freedom Of Information Act requesting records that the Department of Veterans Affairs has long withheld in regards to the Camp Lejeune Subject Matter Expert Program.

“Between 1953 and 1987 about one million Marines, Sailors and civilians stationed or working at Camp Lejeune were exposed to drinking water contaminated with a toxic cocktail of multiple highly carcinogenic compounds,” said Sarahi Uribe with the Veteran’s Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School. Continue...

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