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 15, 2013 12:13 PM

From NFOIC:  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.

R.I. activist files open-records complaint in search for information on payments made to House Speaker Fox

image of Access keyPROVIDENCE — The citizen-activist who filed an ethics complaint against House Speaker Gordon D. Fox in connection with his role as a closing attorney for the troubled Providence Economic Development Partnership loan program has now filed a related open-records complaint with the attorney general’s office. Judith Reilly lodged the open-records complaint against the PEDP after the city agency advised her it had no records of how much Fox was paid for his services as PEDP’s closing attorney from 2005 through early 2010. The complaint is pending.

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Ombudsman warns ruling could lead to Iowa open meeting violations

A ruling Thursday by a state board opens the door for Iowa governments to elude a law requiring that the public be given at least 24-hour notice before meetings are held, Ombudsman Ruth Cooperrider warned. That warning came in a meeting just before the Iowa Public Information Board, an enforcement body of the state’s public meeting and open record laws, voted unanimously in favor of a ruling written by the board’s director, Keith Luchtel.

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N.J. court upholds OPRA request by Northern Valley Regional parents

Hackensack — Northern Valley Regional High School parents, who said that the school board did not comply with the Open Public Records Act to provide access to records regarding a random drug testing policy, received a small victory when a Bergen County judge ruled that the school district must turn over fifty-seven documents for his review. Superior Court Assignment Judge Peter Doyne rejected the district’s argument that the request made by a group of parents for the documents was improper at a hearing on Nov. 7, and ruled that the district must send 57 withheld documents regarding random drug testing to the court for further review.

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Editorial: Public has a right to yawn

To take a famous Shakespeare quote and turn it on its ear: “A thorn by any other name would be as sharp.” In New Hampshire, it’s called the Right-to-Know Law. They call it the Public Records Law in Vermont, the Public Records Act in Massachusetts and it’s known as the Sunshine Law in Florida. At the federal level, it’s known as the Freedom of Information Act.

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Editorial: Bringing Mass. into the digital age

Easy access to public records is necessary for government accountability. But Massachusetts’ public record law is out of date. State agencies routinely charge 20 cents a page for documents that can be delivered in an electronic format, and requests for documents often go months without reply. Fortunately, an amendment filed by Representative Peter Kocot of Northampton would correct these deficiencies. Legislators should embrace it.

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Limits on fees for public records passed by Michigan House committee

LANSING — Public bodies would be limited in what they could charge for copying public records under the Freedom of Information Act under a bill passed by a House committee Tuesday. The bill would allow public bodies to charge $0.10 per page for documents requested by anyone under the Freedom of Information Act. They also could charge labor costs of up to three times the minimum wage in Michigan of $7.40 per hour.

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News groups appeal order to seal court records, Idaho

BOISE, Idaho -- A coalition of news organizations has asked a federal appeals court to order the release of sealed witness testimony and exhibits in an antitrust trial involving the expansion of a health care system. The organizations challenged a protective order issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill that allowed attorneys for St. Luke's Health System, Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, the Federal Trade Commission and others to keep a large amount of testimony and evidence hidden from public view.

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Former Washington auditor calls for public access to records

PASCO – “Creating open public records is not a partisan issue,” said Brian Sonntag, former Washington state auditor. “Citizens have the right to expect nothing less.” Sonntag’s comments were made at the Pasco Red Lion yesterday morning, Tuesday, during the Washington Policy Center’s first-ever Solutions Summit.

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Tennessee DCS posts documents relating to child deaths

The Department of Children’s Services will now post on its website documents relating to its internal investigations into the deaths and near deaths of children. The agency already has posted more than 3,600 pages of documents relating to the deaths or injuries suffered by 64 children in Tennessee during the last half of 2012. All identifying information has been redacted.

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Will open data make Honolulu gov’t more transparent?

The Honolulu City Council today unanimously passed an open data bill that aims to make government more transparent. If Mayor Kirk Caldwell signs the bill it will essentially help to open up reams of government statistics and data in a format that can be manipulated to build apps, create visualizations of complex information and help citizens analyze government services.

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Duffey looks to streamline access to public records in Ohio

State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) has introduced a series of bills designed to make it easier to find and understand data about local and state government. Called the DataOhio Initiative, the program would promote open standards and make Ohio government more accountable to Ohioans, he said.

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Groveland Mayor Jim Gearhart quits amid Sunshine-law probe

GROVELAND — Mayor Jim Gearhart, who's been under fire from residents and city employees amid an investigation for possible Sunshine Law violations, stepped down on Wednesday. Gearhart, a member of the City Council since 2007 who was elected mayor last year, blamed "politics" and "brutal attacks" for his resignation in a letter he delivered to Interim City Manager Willie Morgan.

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Florida appeals court rules teacher data is public record

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A Florida appeals court says that data used to prepare teacher evaluations is a public record. The 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday sided with The Florida Times-Union in a lawsuit the newspaper filed against the Florida Department of Education.

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October 14, 2013 9:23 AM

From Des Moines Register: Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald has provided more than 7,100 of his emails to a federal agency as part of a legal dispute with the U.S. government that involves a $7 billion wireless first-responder network.

Fitzgerald has alleged the network is being improperly or unethically commissioned, court documents show.

Visit Des Moines Register for more.

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October 14, 2013 8:59 AM

From Des Moines Register: State officials say key performance and disciplinary records from the Department of Public Safety’s 2008 training academy have gone missing from a locked storage unit — a development that has undermined the investigation of a hazing incident that year.

Academy instructors said the records, including detailed notes on the 32 graduates’ progress during the 20-week program, were boxed and stored at DPS headquarters in Des Moines alongside similar records from prior academies.

Visit Des Moines Register for more.

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October 8, 2013 8:15 AM

From press-citizen.com: The Iowa Freedom of Information Council released its annual “State of Freedom of Information in Iowa” report at its annual business meeting Thursday in Iowa City, detailing a slew of public information developments over the last year.

Most notably, the Iowa Public Information Board began full operations in July. The board meets monthly to review complaints from citizens who say their requests for public information have been wrongly denied.

[...]

The annual report from the Freedom of Information Council — an independent nonprofit group, separate from the Public Information Board — also highlighted a handful of other changes to Iowa’s public information landscape.

[...]

The Freedom of Information Council itself faces changes as well as the group looks to close its projected budget deficit next year, possibly through increasing membership fees.

“It’s apparent that going forward, we’re going to have to figure out a way to make a little bit more money every year,” executive director Kathleen Richardson said. “ ... Dues have not increased, as far as we can tell, in the whole history of the organization.”

Visit press-citizen.com for more.

The Iowa Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 8, 2013 8:04 AM

From The Gazette: Times sure have changed since the first public meeting convened in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol in Iowa City.

Many of the dozen or so attendees at the Iowa Public Information Board meeting there on Thursday were messing around with some electronic devices.

[...]

This technology is more than a distraction, it’s pushing at the boundaries of Iowa Open Meeting Law first drafted back in 1978.

Visit The Gazette for more.

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September 27, 2013 10:45 AM

From NFOIC:  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.

YH-R, TV stations earn Washington open government award

image of Access keyThe Washington Coalition for Open Government on Thursday presented the Yakima Herald-Republic and three local television stations with the organization’s Key Award for contributions in promoting open government. The award was given for the newspaper’s and television stations’ joint effort in June to keep open court hearings on new evidence in a widely discussed triple-homicide case that prosecutors had sought to close to the public.

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Supreme Court agrees to hear arguments over Chicago’s red light program, FOIA and legal malpractice matters

The Illinois Supreme Court this week agreed to hear arguments in more than a dozen cases. ... The justices also agreed to hear a pair of cases challenging dismissals of actions brought under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Those cases are Warren Garlick v. Lisa Madigan and Larry Nelson, et al. v The County of Kendall.

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LSU board hit with penalty in public records case

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Baton Rouge judge has ordered the LSU Board of Supervisors to pay thousands in penalties to two newspapers, after refusing to provide them with presidential search records. Judge Janice Clark applied the maximum $100 per day penalty, along with a requirement that LSU reimburse the newspapers for attorneys' fees and court costs.

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Beaver county (PA) stalls on public records request despite legal ruling

BEAVER, Pennsylvania — Beaver County hasn't provided documents to a local newspaper on the initial five bidders for a nursing home, despite a ruling from the state's Office of Open Records. Assistant County Solicitor Andrea Cantelmi said Wednesday that no decision has been made on either providing the information or appealing the decision, The Beaver County Times reported.

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Iowa free press and open government events scheduled for Oct. 3

Members of the public, the media, local and state government and University of Iowa officials will participate in a day of free press and open government events Oct. 3. At 10 a.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol there will be a meeting of the new Iowa Public Information Board.

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Opinion: Another week, another dustup over public records issues in Ohio

Columbus -- Not too long after I started covering the Statehouse six years ago, I began keeping tabs on Ohio's Tax Credit Authority. Each month, I look over the panel's agenda, searching for companies of local interest. Wherever one from Youngstown or Defiance or Cambridge or Wooster or other communities is up for a tax break, I try to attend. It's always a challenge.

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New York governor has work to do to keep transparency promise

As he prepares to seek re-election next year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo can point to a number of campaign promises kept: Passage of on-time budgets, approval of same-sex marriage and a revised tax code among them. What he cannot point to is his pledge to create “the most transparent and accountable (state government) in history.” On that front, the governor and his administration have much work to do.

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Bayonne must pay attorney fees in dispute over New Jersey OPRA requests

The city of Bayonne has been ordered to pay attorney fees after a state agency ruled that the city unlawfully denied a series of Open Public Records Act requests. "Bayonne has been difficult," said John Paff, 56, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Parties open government advocacy project, whose OPRA requests had been initially denied. "They seem to almost have a problem with dealing with record requests. I asked for two things and made two separate requests.

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Florida Public Defender under fire: New emails revealed

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Action News is digging through thousands of emails from Jacksonville's embattled Public Defender, Matt Shirk. Shirk became the subject of a special prosecutor's probe after independent investigations by Action News and the Florida Times-Union revealed possible violations of public records laws.

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Editorial: Keeping the spirit of FOIA strong (MI)

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act will be 40 years old in 2016. That would seem long enough to assure that it is well understood and equally well followed by the public officials who entertain requests to review public records from citizens and the media. Yet, exactly how the FOIA is followed can vary wildly from state department to state department. LSJ state government reporter Kristen Daum exposed the contrasts in special reports this summer.

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August 20, 2013 8:48 AM

From The Des Moines Register:  Open-government advocates are sponsoring three workshops next month to help Iowa citizens become more engaged, according to a news release.

It’s the second year for the program sponsored by the Iowa Newspaper Foundation and the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. This year’s workshop is titled “The People Have the Power: Making a Difference in Your Community.” Workshop topics will include public meetings and public records, and resources available through the new Iowa Public Information Board.

The sessions are free, and no registration is required. Each runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m.:

SEPT. 12: Scheman Building, Iowa State University, Ames.

SEPT. 19: PZAZZ hotel complex, Burlington.

SEPT. 26: Hilton Garden Inn, Council Bluffs.

For more information, call 515-271-2295 or email kathleen.richardson@drake.edu.

Iowa Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

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May 15, 2013 1:11 PM

From Des Moines Register:  Iowa Public Radio is subject to state open-records laws and likely must adhere to public meetings laws, the state attorney general’s office said in an informal opinion.

The office, however, doesn’t plan to investigate further because IPR has a written policy that requires the station to follow the state’s public meetings laws, according to a May 9 letter to State Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan.

 

December 12, 2012 10:36 AM

From Globe Gazette:

We’ve long been an advocate for open government, whether it’s strengthening the state’s open meetings and open records laws or advocating for electronic access to courts and public meetings.
 
[...]
 
First was the announcement that the Iowa Senate is on course to begin video streaming debates over the Internet when the new legislative session begins in January.
 
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The other bit of news was the announcement by the Iowa Supreme Court that it has appointed a committee to review expanded media coverage in Iowa’s court.

 

September 25, 2012 2:02 PM

From Press-citizen.com:

During the Sept. 18 open government workshop with the Iowa Newspaper Association, local citizens learned much about how to use the state’s public records and open meetings laws to hold their officials accountable. But the existing laws have one major weakness: they still allow circumvention through a process called “walking quorums.”

[...]

In an effort to circumvent the spirit of the Open Meetings law, governing bodies in Iowa often employ a process known as “walking quorum,” where plans are presented to only one or two elected officials at a time. City staff retains control of all information, as well as of the spin placed on all related issues.

September 25, 2012 10:03 AM

From Des Moines Register:

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa today filed a lawsuit to force the Des Moines school district to provide materials from a May 10 meeting closed to the public, after which the school board voted to accept the resignation of former superintendent Nancy Sebring.

[...]

The lawsuit contends the district must turn over the materials, including any written materials and audio recordings, because the school board did not go into a closed meeting to discuss Sebring’s qualifications, which is allowed under state law.

September 4, 2012 2:08 PM

From DesMoinesRegister.com:

“The People Have the Power: Making a Difference in Your Community” is an interactive, 90-minute workshop that will introduce you to the tools for becoming an engaged, informed citizen.
 
[...]
 
The program is funded by a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, but the “community conversations” we will create together are uniquely Iowan. In several different ways these days, we Iowans are creating a national model for civil, civic engagement.
 
This project arises from a statewide poll that the Iowa FOI Council commissioned just about this time last year. We found that Iowans trust their government, but they also whole-heartedly embrace the principles of openness. As taxpayers, they want to know how government officials are spending their money. In the tension between openness and privacy, Iowans endorse more transparency and they welcome more opportunities for input into government decisions. These attitudes cross age, gender, income and political lines, and the opinions of government officials and employees and their families are no different from those of other Iowans.

Iowa Freedom of Information Council is a member of NFOIC.--eds.

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