FOI Advocate Blog

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 3, 2013 1:22 PM

From Voice of OC: The state Supreme Court has rejected a request by Voice of OC and open-government advocates Californians Aware to review a gag order Orange County government leaders imposed on themselves so they wouldn’t have to release information regarding allegations of sex abuse by a top county official.

The case involved a Voice of OC request under the California Public Records Act for documents that would show what top county officials knew about allegations that former Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante sexually assaulted female employees.

Opponents of the gag order fear the tactic employed by Orange County leaders will become a tool statewide for government officials who want to avoid complying with the 45-year-old Public Records Act.

Visit Voice of OC for more. Also see Voice of OC asking California Supreme Court to hear records case for more background.

The Californians Aware and the First Amendment Coalition are members of NFOIC. --eds

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November 26, 2013 3:48 PM

From Courthouse News Service: SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Comments last week from judges, labor representatives and open government advocates poured criticism on the "vagueness and breadth" of exemptions to a draft rule that would open up meetings of Judicial Council advisory bodies.

But, when asked if the draft rule applies to the Judicial Council's powerful internal committees, Justice Douglas Miller who heads the Executive and Planning Committee answered directly and clearly, "Yes it does."

"We used the legislative language to guide our definition of an advisory body to the Judicial Council," he added. That legislative language defines advisory body as "any multimember body created by formal Judicial Council action to review issues that will be reported to the council."

But criticism rained down on the draft rule's many exemptions that would allow advisory bodies to continue operating in the dark.

Visit Courthouse News Service for more.

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November 7, 2013 2:50 PM

From Voice of OC: The Los Angeles Times, the corporate parent of the Orange County Register and the 800-member California Newspaper Publishers Association are urging the state Supreme Court to overturn a gag order obtained by Orange County that allows it to keep documents secret that show what top officials knew about alleged sexual abuse of female workers.

In addition, the Virginia–based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which is led by reporters and editors from the nation’s largest print and broadcast organizations, is supporting the appeal filed at the state Supreme Court in September by Voice of OC and open-government advocate Californians Aware.

“It’s huge,” said Voice of OC attorney Kelly A. Aviles of the corporate, CNPA and national news organization support. “It's [the case] really garnered national attention,” said Aviles, who is also CalAware’s vice president for open government compliance. “I’m really glad the heavy hitters are speaking up and trying to get this resolved before it causes anyone else any problems.”

[...]

At issue is an unusual series of rulings — “more dangerous” than a gag order, according to Aviles — that were requested by county officials and issued by Orange County Superior Court judges that sealed all county records involving alleged sexual harassment by former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante.

Visit Voice of OC for more.

The Californians Aware is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 14, 2013 8:46 AM

From San Jose Mercury News: WALNUT CREEK -- The Bay Area News Group is asking a judge to force the Mt. Diablo Unified School District to release internal records about a former Concord elementary teacher charged with sexually molesting 13 young male students.

Citing personnel and investigatory exemptions in the state's public records law, the district has refused to produce documents pertaining to former Woodside Elementary teacher Joseph Martin, 45, who pleaded not guilty in July to 125 felony molestation counts.

Visit San Jose Mercury News for more.

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October 9, 2013 1:07 PM

From Daily Pilot: Costa Mesa officials have denied a public records request for a 20-year-old archaeological study about the Fairview Indian Site.

The Daily Pilot, which filed the request Sept. 23, had sought a copy of the 1993 report, conducted by the Keith Cos.

Visit Daily Pilot for more.

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October 8, 2013 8:52 AM

From Voice of OC: Voice of OC and open-government advocate Californians Aware have petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn an Orange County gag order, arguing the county is trying “an end run” to hide what executives may have known about alleged sexual abuse of female workers.

Earlier this year, county officials, including the Board of Supervisors, took the unusual step of seeking the order in criminal court so they wouldn’t have to make information public in the case of former county Public Works executive Carlos Bustamante.

[...]

“As long as this gag order persists, we can’t even get into court” to fight for access to public records, said Terry Francke, general counsel of Californians Aware. The underlying issue, he said, is to obtain information for the public about “the inner workings of a county government allowing, allegedly, a continuing number of county workers to be sexually assaulted on the job by a supervisor.”

[...]

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said Orange County used “the criminal court as a way to bypass and abort the ongoing public records lawsuit. That was improper. It’s unfortunate the criminal court allowed itself to be used in that way.”

Visit Voice of OC for more.

The Californians Aware and the First Amendment Coalition are members of NFOIC. --eds

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October 8, 2013 8:45 AM

From Daily Trojan: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission top administrator John Sandbrook was found guilty of testifying falsely during USC’s lease negotiations with the Coliseum on Oct. 4, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin ruled that Sandbrook falsely stated under oath his reasons for why the lease negotiations between the commission and the university could be kept secret, which both contradicted Sandbrook’s prepared agenda and violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law guaranteeing that actions and deliberations of public commissions, boards and councils be conducted openly.

[...]

The ruling was made in light of a lawsuit against the commission by the Times and Californians Aware, a nonprofit 1st Amendment organization. The suit alleged that the agency repeatedly violated the Brown Act while conducting meetings behind closed doors to grant USC control of the Coliseum.

Visit Daily Trojan for more.

The Californians Aware is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 3, 2013 8:55 AM

From Oakland North: In a push to improve government transparency, Oakland city officials on Tuesday launched RecordTrac, a new program designed by Code for America that allows users to request public records online.

RecordTrac shows those seeking records where to find them — even if they aren’t filed under the City of Oakland. Officials said the process by which such requests are filled can be tracked through the program, which will give city government feedback as to whether records searches are going smoothly. The program is designed to allow users to explore all past records requests by anyone who has used the program.

Visit Oakland North for more.

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September 12, 2013 8:02 AM

From San Jose Mercury News: SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California voters will decide whether the public's right to inspect local government records should be enshrined in the state constitution after lawmakers voted Tuesday to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next June. If voters approve, local governments would have to follow the California Public Records Act and the state's open-meetings law but would not be reimbursed by the state for doing so.

The legislation, SCA3, was proposed in response to a media outcry over changes that loosened requirements on how local governments handle requests for public records. Lawmakers said the changes, which were proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in the state budget, were intended to save the state millions of dollars it must pay local governments for following the law.

The state "should not have to provide a fiscal incentive to local governments so that they comply with these important transparency laws," said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who sponsored the amendment.

[...]

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, which supports the amendment, said enshrining the access to public records in the state constitution "will fortify the public's right to access the meetings and records of government agencies as a bedrock principle of democratic government."

Visit San Jose Mercury News for more.

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September 11, 2013 10:33 AM

From The Fresno Bee: SACRAMENTO — The average retirement payout for new retirees in California's biggest public pension system doubled between 1999 and 2012, according to CalPERS data, and initial monthly payments for one group nearly tripled in that period.

[...]

The figures from CalPERS' internal annual reports, obtained by The Sacramento Bee through a Public Records Act request, show how upgraded pension formulas that became fashionable during the late 1990s and early 2000s amplified the impact of pay raises to boost retirement allowances.

Visit The Fresno Bee for more.

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May 24, 2013 1:18 PM

We're sorry we missed our usual State FOIA Friday last week (May 17) but we were otherwise occupied in New Orleans for the annual FOI Summit.

A few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

 

UW-Madison seeks limits on open records regarding research

Madison — The University of Wisconsin-Madison is seeking to limit the state's open records law — potentially through language slipped into the state budget — to keep some research information from the public until it is published or patented. No specific incidents of harmful disclosures were cited in language for possible legislation that is being passed among Republican lawmakers and was obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

Visit Journal Sentinel for the rest.

Closing the door on open gov

Mayor Bob Filner’s formal push for government transparency appears all but dead with the departure of the two officials leading the effort. As a candidate, Filner pledged to create an atmosphere of openness at City Hall with regular office hours and greater access to details on government happenings. Central to those plans was the open government department, a mayoral division Filner said would ensure residents get easy access to city documents and details on the workings of city government.

Visit Voice of San Diego for the rest.

Editorial: Lakeland police public records: Cat and mouse

Lakeland residents are right back where they started in January, unable to trust their Police Department to provide records to the public, as required by Florida law. Worse, confidence in the Circuit Court is hard to hold because the chief judge has refused to release even the slimmest portion of a grand jury report on Lakeland Police and public records.

Visit The Ledger for the rest.

Records: Driver in fatal III. van wreck had license suspended for administrative reasons

A New Jersey man behind the wheel of a van that overturned on an Illinois freeway, killing five passengers returning from a California ministry gathering, had his driving privileges suspended last year for administrative reasons, motor vehicle records show. Illinois State Police have refused to publicly identify the driver ticketed for improper lane usage and driving with a suspended license Monday's wreck on Interstate 70, citing an ongoing investigation a spokeswoman said could take weeks. However, The Associated Press obtained that citation, which was issued to 45-year-old Malcolm Purnell of Paterson, N.J. Public records suggest Purnell now lives in Camden, N.J.

Visit Fox News for the rest.

CA records law changes face opposition

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to save money by lifting certain requirements of the California Public Records Act is getting some pushback from at least one corner of the Legislature. Two years ago, an obscure state commission determined that the state must reimburse local governments if it requires them to assist the public with records requests and respond to them within 10 days.

Visit U-T San Diego for the rest.

The Records Man retires

The Texas Public Information Act requires public officials to respond to document requests quickly – within days and without lame excuses. Unfortunately, reporters get used to having to fight for records since bureaucrats tend to balk. They appeal to the Texas AG for permission to deny requests. They claim to lose them. They demand thousands of dollars in fees — in advance. Or they provide heavily censored or useless info. But that never happened with requests handled by the Harris County auditor’s office.

Visit Huston Chronicle for the rest.

Secretary of state Ross Miller accused of disclosure violation

A national Republican group has sued Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, claiming he failed to turn over records that should be made public detailing his travel, compensation, public schedule and cellphone use. The State Government Leadership Foundation, an affiliate of the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, accused the Democrat of accepting generous gifts and trying to hide his assets.

Visit Nevada Appeal for the rest.

April 4, 2013 2:58 PM

From arstechnica.com:

OAKLAND, CA—Four years ago, Code For America (CFA) was founded with the mission to "help governments work better for everyone with the people and the power of the Web." Within two years, the San Francisco-based nonprofit set up a fellowship program, inviting American cities to receive a team of three young motivated developers, activists, and policy planners. The Washington Post's description captured what everyone was already thinking: CFA is the “technology world’s equivalent of the Peace Corps or Teach for America.”

It's an apt comparison. All three organizations choose a specific municipal problem and recruit volunteers with specific skillsets—in this case, people able to conceptualize and build some sort of tech tool—to tackle it. Accordingly, the past two years of the CFA program have produced a few high profile successes: "BlightStatus" in New Orleans lets people check up on blight in their neighborhoods, while "Honolulu Answers" in Hawaii refined search on the municipality's websites. In Boston, the CFA was responsible for both "Where's My School Bus?", which provides real-time school bus information for parents, and "Adopt-A-Hydrant," which helps the city save money by letting people volunteer to shovel hydrants near their homes out of the snow in the winter.



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