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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March 23, 2015 10:50 AM

The formation of hundreds of nonprofit groups that run or support police, ambulance or fire services across Iowa has invoked deep questions about lack of oversight that some say could leave the state vulnerable to corruption.

The concern hinges on accountability: Their nonprofit status could shelter such groups from state audits, allow for secret meetings and prohibit the public's ability to inspect detailed spending information, according to a review by The Des Moines Register of such groups' status.

"This may be legal, but it certainly doesn't pass the sniff test," said Bill Monroe, Gov. Terry Branstad's government transparency adviser and a member of the Iowa Public Information Board. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2015 12:36 PM

Last month was open records month, but that doesn't mean you can't still go and view them.

In Iowa, most government records are open to the public.

For city records, you can go to the city clerk. Continue>>>

March 9, 2015 1:03 PM

Almost seven weeks into the legislative session, no fewer than 25 bills have been introduced that would affect open meetings, open records or public notice advertising in Iowa.

The bill that has received the most attention is one being fast-tracked that would seal data on Iowa's concealed weapons permit holders. But other bills are lurking in the wings that also would erode openness in our state's government.

Among them:

House study bill 162 would allow anyone to file a written request to prohibit their name, address and telephone number from being accessed on county Internet sites.
Senate file 385 would expand confidentiality of court records, allowing for the expungement of not-guilty verdicts and dismissed criminal charges.
Senate file 292 would make confidential certain juvenile court records.
House study bill 167 would seal records of applications to erect cell phone towers and infrastructure. Continue>>>
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January 5, 2015 6:57 AM

The Des Moines Register received a call last week from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Freedom of Information Act Office, which processes requests for public documents.

The call was a sobering reminder of the pace at which the federal government handles requests for information:

"This is Brandon Lancey from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the FOIA Office. I am calling to see if you are still interested in — well, actually you made a request a while back about Lincare Holdings Inc., regarding their annual reports." Continue>>>
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November 7, 2014 11:32 AM

Public pension funds have been a boon for private-equity firms, pouring billions into the industry in recent years. But some of the biggest p.e. firms are blanching at the transparency that such public investments can bring—and they are fighting back against it.

Public pensions have received public-records requests for documents covering their relationships with p.e. firms, notably about fees. But p.e. firms have been largely successful in avoiding such revelations, through lobbying and threats.

Just last month, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts warned the Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System against complying with a request seeking information about the fees it paid. The firm said that the release of confidential information could “jeopardize access to attractive investment opportunities;” in effect, a threat to refuse IPERS’ business in the future. Continue>>>

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October 13, 2014 1:43 PM

Gov. Terry Branstad on Thursday proposed creating a Government Accountability Portal to make state government more open, transparent and accountable to Iowa citizens. Branstad said the new entity would be a 'one-stop shop' housed within the Iowa Public Information Board for Iowans to register comments, concerns, questions or suggestions regarding state government and its operations.

The new approach would require a response to an 'input' from Iowa citizens within 24 hours and would require acknowledgment from the appropriate state agency within 48 hours, so that the citizen knows with whom the discussion will continue, according to a news release from the Branstad-Reynolds campaign.

Branstad said he and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds have made transparency a hallmark of their administration, beginning with the resumption of weekly news conference to directly respond to questions from the media and naming former Iowa Newspaper Association executive Bill Monroe as the state's first transparency adviser to the governor. Continue>>>
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October 8, 2014 12:57 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe has served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former newspaper publisher and state newspaper association director who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Continue>>>
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October 7, 2014 2:05 PM

Sitting in a modestly furnished conference room in the Wallace Building, with a bay window view of the State Capitol behind him, Bill Monroe reflects on the workload he expected in the first year with the state's Public Information Board.

The board was created by the state to handle complaints and violations related to open meetings and open records laws, and Monroe served as its chairman from its inception in 2012, including the first year when it had no funding.

Monroe, a former publisher of the Spencer Daily News who fought for the board's creation, assured legislators the board would handle roughly 350 cases per year. Monroe based that figure on information he gathered from other state entities that previously handled open meetings and open records issues, but it was merely an educated guess. He remembers hoping that first year would not break his promise. Continue>>>
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October 6, 2014 10:51 AM

Whether Iowa's public records law should be amended to make public the reasons that government employees are fired sparked debate in a roundtable discussion Thursday at The Des Moines Register.

Advocates like Gov. Terry Branstad say citizens have a right to learn of a government worker's wrongdoing as a matter of public safety. Opponents like Sen. Matt McCoy worry changing the law would violate a person's privacy, unfairly jeopardize a fired worker's chances of future employment and potentially open the state to ongoing rounds of litigation.

Those two divergent views were on display at Thursday's roundtable, "Opening Doors, Opening Minds," an event sponsored by The Register and the Iowa Newspaper Association in light of recent public record and meeting controversies in which Iowans were denied access to government information. Continue>>>
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September 23, 2014 8:53 AM

During the legislative session and when lawmakers are not in session, the Legislatureís website at legis.sd.gov provides a wealth of information about proposed laws, committee hearings and votes. But the website is only valuable if information that the public has a right to know is made available.

Despite claims by lawmakers and state government officials that South Dakota is taking great strides toward transparency, much of what public officials and elected representatives are up to remains hidden.

While Gov. Dennis Daugaard has taken the initiative to make state government more open and created a website (open.sd.gov) where the public can go to get information about local and state governments, his Open Government Task Force failed miserably, in our view, when only three of its recommended bills ñ minor ones at that ñ were passed by the 2013 Legislature. Lawmakers, apparently, don't share the governor's view on transparency in government. Continue>>>
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June 5, 2014 12:32 PM

In its own polite, Midwestern fashion, The Des Moines Register is mad as heck and is not going to take it anymore. After Iowa officials refused to release records showing alleged abuses by state employees, the paper is pursuing dual lawsuits to force the records into public view. In one case, the Register is even suing the state’s new public information board, formed expressly to address years of complaints about records transparency.

The legal moves, coupled with related efforts at coalition-building, are part of an avowedly more assertive posture by the paper to shift the state’s political culture toward openness—a stance that is welcomed by open-government advocates in Iowa, even if its prospects for success are uncertain.

One of the suits, filed against the Iowa Department of Public Safety, seeks police records of an incident last fall in Worth County in which an inmate was Tasered multiple times and died while in custody—a death that the state medical examiner ruled a homicide. The other suit involves a 2012 video that shows an employee at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo slamming a female inmate’s head against a wall; the employee has been fired and the home has been closed, but the state has refused the Register’s requests to release the video on the grounds of protecting the alleged victim’s confidentiality, and the Iowa Public Information Board ruled in the state’s favor by a vote of 6-3 in February. Continue>>>
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March 21, 2014 10:06 AM

Gov. Terry Branstad’s work group in charge of investigating secret settlements to former state employees has already formed — and plans to meet behind closed doors, the governor’s spokesman said Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the formation of the work group Monday in response to a Des Moines Register investigation that found the Republican Branstad administration had paid more than $280,000 to six former employees, most who allege they were fired for their ties to Democrats.

The settlements were shuffled through state agencies, avoiding the typical process of being approved by and made public through the Iowa Appeal Board. Continue>>>
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