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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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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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.



March 18, 2013 12:07 PM

From KPBS:

Marking Sunshine Week in San Diego, Mayor Bob Filner on Thursday unveiled a new section of the city website that makes good on his promise for open government—putting in one place information on the pensions being paid city retirees as well as all lawsuits involving City Hall.

With his open-government chief Donna Frye standing beside him, he displayed what Frye called one of the most transparent city sites in the state, if not the nation.

“It’s Sunshine Week every week in the city of San Diego,” said Frye, the former councilwoman, who said she is collecting an annual pension of $31,000 as well as a salary for her new job of about $100,000 a year.



March 18, 2013 12:00 PM

From Oakland Local:

This past week was “International Sunshine Week,” a national initiative dedicated to educating the American public about the importance of open and accessible government.

Here in Oakland, we have done a lot in recent days to advance the cause of open local government, so we too had much to celebrate last week.

February 8, 2013 2:25 PM

Access Freedom of InformationA 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.

 

New York's real-time snow plow map to get its first major test this weekend

PlowNYC, the interactive map that allows New York City residents to watch their army of plow-nosed garbage trucks deploy through the city in real time, will have its first test this weekend. Unveiled during last year's mild winter, it has yet to receive the same publicity as a similar program in Chicago. But with a foot of snow in New York City all but assured by Saturday morning, PlowNYC is about to hit the big time.

Visit The Atlantic Cities for the rest.

Closing Airport City meeting violates Colorado Sunshine Laws, experts say

Keeping the public out of a meeting next week that could change the direction of development at Denver International Airport — the state's largest economic driver — would break Colorado open-meetings law, experts said Thursday. Adams County would prefer that the meeting among three elected officials, the mayor of Denver and two of his appointed representatives be conducted behind closed doors.

Visit The Denver Post for the rest.

Henry Sibley principal's $64,590 payout draws questions from open government advocates, MN

The West St. Paul school district paid Henry Sibley High School principal Robin Percival $64,590 to resign—but the district's not saying why Percival resigned or why she received a payout. The secretive termination agreement has rehashed old debates among lawmakers, lawyers and freedom of information advocates.

Visit The Patch for the rest.

Scientist, activist Ian Trowbridge dead

He was the product of early post-war England who developed a keen interest in how things work, first on the cellular level and then in local government. … Trowbridge, the retired Salk Institute researcher who turned his attention to local politics and became a thorn in the side of many an elected official, died Wednesday of an undisclosed illness. He was 65. … He filed perhaps hundreds of California Public Records Act requests over the years and filed lawsuits when he believed public meetings were improperly held in secret.

Visit U-T San Diego for the rest.

Nevada Assembly reviews government transparency

The Nevada attorney general’s office made its case Thursday for a pair of bills before the state Legislature aimed at increasing government transparency. The proposals target laws addressing public records and open meetings, said Keith Munro, the chief of staff for the prosecutor’s office.

Visit RGJ.com for the rest.

Judge (Colorado): Public records still public in Jensen case

District Judge Valerie Robison on Thursday rejected a defense bid to seal the public court file in the case of accused mother Heather Jensen, ensuring continued access to public records in the case. Robison said in a written order that a motion filed by attorney Ed Nugent seeking closure of the public file was “lacking in authority” under state law, while Colorado’s rules of criminal procedure have “no provision” for sealing public court files.

Visit The Daily Sentinel for the rest.

Gov. Haslam denies state lost DCS records case

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam denied Thursday that the state was the loser when a judge ruled that the Tennessee Department of Children's Services must make public its records of abuse and neglect investigations of children who died or nearly died. The Republican governor insisted the state is simply "doing what the chancellor asked us to do" in a ruling last month that the documents are public records.

Visit KNOXNews.com for the rest.

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs joins legislative leadership to announce government transparency, pension legislation

(AUSTIN) – Texas Comptroller Susan Combs joined legislative leadership today (February 7, 2013) to announce the filing of legislation aimed at improving government transparency and empowering taxpayers to make informed decisions about taxes and public debt. Senate Bill 14 and House Bill 14, authored by State Senator Tommy Williams and State Representative Jim Pitts and focused primarily on government transparency, would provide taxpayers with vital information about government spending and debt.

Visit The Office of Comptroller for the rest.

Open records advocates say city should put more records online, Colorado

Instead of charging citizens for open records requests, Colorado Springs should be working to put more public information online. That is the advice open government advocates offered Thursday as the city began charging $20 per hour to fill public records requests.

Visit The Gazette for the rest.

Group grades online transparency for states, local governments

Many state and local government websites recently made strides in boosting transparency, a new report published last week finds. Open government watchdog Sunshine Review issued grades for 1,014 government websites, assessing a range of criteria measuring the availability of information.

Visit Governing.com for the rest.

December 10, 2012 1:42 PM

From Society of Professional Journalists:

The James Madison Freedom of Information Awards recognize Northern California organizations and individuals who have made significant contributions to advancing freedom of information and expression in the spirit of James Madison, the creative force behind the First Amendment. SPJ NorCal presents the awards during National Freedom of Information Week near Madison’s birthday, March 16.

Eligible for nomination are Northern California individuals such as journalists, lay citizens, public officials, attorneys, educators, librarians, news organizations and community groups that, during 2012, have defended public access to meetings, public records or court proceedings or otherwise promoted the public’s right to know, publish and speak freely about issues of public concern.

For more information, please see the full press release here.

October 25, 2012 7:12 AM

From Reuters:

SAN FRANCISCO (Oct 23, 2012) - The University of California must try to obtain and then disclose closely guarded information on the investment performance of venture capital funds managed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital, a state judge said in a tentative ruling made public on Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this year in California state court in Oakland by Reuters America, a unit of Thomson Reuters Corp, argues that the state Public Records Act requires disclosure of specific investment-return information for the university system's $10.65 billion endowment fund.

Reuters argued that the public had an interest in seeing details on the funds' performance, and previous rulings have held that the university's returns are public records. But the university argued that Kleiner and Sequoia considered the information confidential and that it receives only aggregate returns data from those two firms. Venture capital firms often strive to keep information about their performance secret.

October 5, 2012 12:32 PM

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:

Advocates fight to keep Georgia archives open to public

Getting to state archives will become a lot more difficult after Nov. 1. That’s when the Georgia Archives, a repository of records and artifacts that go back to the 1700s, is slated to be closed to the public. The only public access will be through limited appointments. ...The prospect has put the Georgia Archives in national news as the only state archives in the United States whose public records will be closed to the public.

Visit CrossRoadsNews.com for the rest.

Asheville Police Evidence Room Audit Sparks Public Records Debate

The Police Evidence Room in Asheville is the subject of an intense public records battle. More than a year ago, a partial audit revealed guns, drugs, and cash were missing. The police chief resigned. Another, more thorough audit has been completed. But the district attorney won’t release its findings. He says it’s part of an ongoing SBI investigation. A coalition of media groups sued for the audit’s release, and last week, a judge sided with the DA.

Visit WFAE for the rest.

SC justices hear clash over what documents should be made public

COLUMBIA — State Supreme Court justices quizzed lawyers on both sides of a thorny issue Wednesday involving a statewide public school advocacy group, freedom of speech and the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. “What we have here is an unprecedented case,” attorney Kevin Hall told the justices. Hall, a Columbia lawyer, is representing Rocky Disabato, a Charleston man who sued the S.C. Association of School Administrators seeking access to its internal records, including telephone records.

Visit HeraldOnline.com for the rest.

Shhhh. We're litigating.

Under Illinois law, the proceedings of some court cases are kept hidden from public view. This can make sense in narrow circumstances ...Judges, though, have broad discretion to decide when court records are sealed. ...The Tribune investigation found that judges regularly fail to give a reason in their orders for the so-called "sealing" of files, as they should to comply with the law and court guidelines. They sometimes keep the "sealing orders" secret as well, so the public has no way to know that a case has been hidden. They also seal entire cases when they need only to remove sensitive information such as home addresses or Social Security numbers.

Visit Chicago Tribune for the rest.

Albuquerque mayor Berry receives award for open government

Albuquerque's mayor gets an award for open government - but some city-dwellers said he doesn't deserve it. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government praises Mayor Richard Berry for openness and transparency at City Hall, while community activists said he is about as transparent as a concrete wall.

Visit KOB.com for the rest.

California open-meetings law based on local lawsuit

A new law that creates a low-cost way of asking local boards and commissions to adhere to open-meetings laws has its roots here in Tulare County. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, allows members of the public to send local government bodies a cease-and-desist letter if they believe government agencies have violated the series of state open meetings laws known as the Brown Act. The government agency can avoid a court case if it makes an unconditional promise to stop the problem behavior. If it refuses, it allows the case to continue on in court.

Visit Visalia Times-Delta for the rest.

Records show stun gun use against people in mental crises, Vt.

Ten times in the past 18 months, state police fired electronic stun guns at people threatening suicide or at others experiencing a mental health crisis. That's according to police records and video recordings obtained by Vermont Public Radio under the state's open records law.

Visit Vermont Public Radio for the rest.

County records in Pa.to be available online for public viewing

Schuylkill County residents will soon be able to view county records online. The Schuylkill County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a document management software program from PropertyInfo Corp. during a work session Wednesday.

Visit The Republican-Herald for the rest.

Ballot measure to increase California government transparency may incur costs

This November, Berkeley residents will vote on a ballot measure aiming to increase transparency in local government, despite an existing ordinance adopted just last year that planned to accomplish similar goals. ...Though the city’s earlier Open Government Ordinance was adopted in 2011 to meet similar goals of increased public record and meeting access, the new ordinance would replace the current ordinance and create a new oversight committee that could enact harsher punishments — including a lawsuit as a last resort — for officials who do not comply with the new provisions.

Visit The Daily Californian for the rest.

Open government advocates praise Tenn. comptroller's move to waive 1st $25 in records requests

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Comptroller Justin Wilson's move to automatically waive the first $25 in fees for public records requests is drawing praise from open government advocates. The proposed rules, which would also give the comptroller the discretion to waive all costs related to public record searches and copies, were unanimously recommended for adoption by the Joint Government Operations Committees on Wednesday. "The fee waiver provisions are progressive for Tennessee and should be a model for other state and local agencies," said Frank Gibson, the founding director of the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Montpelier records request yields councilors’ texts

MONTPELIER — The results of a public records request made by The Times Argus has put the spotlight on the latest trend among some public officials: texting and emailing one another during public meetings. While the issue is not illegal, it closes in on unethical behavior, and Secretary of State Jim Condos cautioned Tuesday that elected officials should be careful if they continue with the practice.

Visit Times Argus for the rest.

Changes to Georgia's open government laws could close student discipline hearings to public

ATLANTA — Changes to Georgia's open government laws may have an unintended consequence at the state's universities if student disciplinary hearings are no longer open to the public. The Red & Black, an independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia, recently requested records from student conduct hearings. UGA cited the new state law in denying the newspaper access to the records, Red & Black Publisher Harry Montevideo told The Associated Press. The university denied at least two records requests filed since July, said the paper's editorial adviser, Ed Morales.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Wisconsin GOPers sued over potential ALEC ties

Two watchdog groups have filed a lawsuit against five Wisconsin state lawmakers; it claims that the Republicans violated the state’s public records law by failing to disclose private emails that may have tied them to the conservative advocacy group the American Legislative Exchange Council. ...According to the lawsuit, correspondence about ALEC in a private email account is still subject to a public records request, because it is “indisputably related to official government business. Wisconsin legislators are members of ALEC only by virtue of their status as a state legislator, and they correspond with ALEC in their official capacity as Wisconsin legislators.”

Visit Salon for the rest.

September 24, 2012 8:52 AM

From Gilroy Dispatch:

City Council is preparing to change the dynamics of their open government commission – which was created in 2009 to promote transparency from Gilroy staff – as they move to allow members of the public apply for the commission.

Council voted Sept. 17 to approve the modified ordinance, which says that by 2014, the commission will be run entirely by members of the community, rather than by City Council members.



July 31, 2012 11:10 AM

From Mashable:

Palo Alto, Calif., is already well known as a global center of technology innovation, with companies from Google to Facebook having once called it home. However, the city itself hasn't fully embraced technology's potential to disrupt local government – until now.
 
The city of Palo Alto is announcing Tuesday the launch of a new open data platform that represents a first step to becoming a truly digital city. The platform, powered by Junar, will give Palo Alto’s tech-savvy residents and all other interested developers a wealth of easily consumable data in hopes that they will go off and create new, useful applications that tie the city’s residents closer together and change their view of government from a provider of services to a facilitator of community building.

May 10, 2012 1:49 AM

From GovLoop.com:

State governments are beginning to focus on website analytics, something we here at GovLoop are very familiar with. They are taking advantage of Google Analytics, a free tool which assesses hits and traffic, to determine how people are utilizing their websites. States like California are even publishing these statistics right on their homepages for people to view.

California has created a dashboard which allows users to see how many people are on any given California website at that time. On weekday afternoons, there could be as many as 40,000 users logged in. There are also 2.4 million monthly visitors via mobile devices, which equates to 12% of total traffic.

May 4, 2012 3:31 PM

From Fox and Hounds Daily:

Gov. Jerry Brown missed an opportunity when he announced that he was eliminating hundreds of state reports – and seeking to eliminate hundreds more.

Brown was trying to convey that the state was buckling down and eliminating waste. But frugality was the only message. He should have paired that move with a call for more engagement – and openness.

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