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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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 4, 2013 12:34 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.

The Journal News sues Putnam County over gun records

image of Access keyThe Journal News announced yesterday that it had filed suit against Putnam County and county officials for their refusal last winter to release public records of gun-permit holders in the county. In its news article about the suit, lohud.com said the paper did not plan to release the names of individuals holding permits. It had done so when it published information about gun-permit holders in Westchester and Rockland counties.

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Iowa Public Information Board to wait before asking lawmakers to tweak law

After a quick discussion of changes they would like, members of the three-month-old Iowa Public Information Board decided to wait at least a year before asking lawmakers to tweak the year-old legislation that created it. Executive Director Keith Luchtel proposed expanding the 2012 law to cover advisory panels and task forces established to “gather information concerning public policy issues.” Iowa courts have ruled those panels now are not covered.

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Red flags missed as St. Louis County health official collected $3.4 million for his company

A high-ranking officer in the St. Louis County Health Department used an alias and scores of bogus invoices to collect $3.4 million from the county over a six-year period that ended last month when the official killed himself as the scheme unraveled. And emails obtained by the Post-Dispatch under the Sunshine Law show that county financial officers ignored red flags that pointed to the company Edward Mueth established to supply and maintain health agency laptop computers.

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Judge says Coliseum panel apparently violated California's open-meeting law

A judge Thursday said the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission appeared to have repeatedly violated the state's open-meeting law during its months of closed-door deliberations on USC's lease of the taxpayer-owned stadium. In pointed language, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin said he was prepared to issue an injunction against the commission that would restrict what it could discuss in secret sessions and require it to record all of its private meetings for three years.

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Group asks judge to reject Sen. Leah Vukmir's open records exemption claim

An investigative group has asked a judge to reject a Republican state senator's arguments that's she's immune from a lawsuit demanding records from her office. The Center for Media and Democracy has filed a lawsuit demanding Leah Vukmir turn over records from an American Legislative Exchange Council conference. The state Justice Department has countered the Wisconsin Constitution provides lawmakers immunity from civil lawsuits during the legislative session.

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Continued FOIA requests weighing on Belding (Michigan) city manager

The drama that has unfolded due to numerous amount Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests from one resident to the city of Belding does not appear to be ending anytime soon. Members of Belding City Council voted to deny six FOIA appeal requests during Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, while voting to reverse the denial, in part, of a seventh appeal, all coming from Belding resident Kimberly Orlich.

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Cuccinelli: Open government, then fight health law (Virginia)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After days of equivocation, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli on Thursday called on Congress to reopen the federal government, then fight over whether to starve the new health care law of funding. Cuccinelli told reporters after a Thursday-morning event that shuttering the government is not the right way for opponents of the 2010 Affordable Care Act to gain leverage to defeat the law he wants to see repealed.

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Fired CEO OF the New Mexico Finance Authority files public records lawsuit

The former top executive of the New Mexico Finance Authority sued Gov. Susana Martinez and one of her cabinet secretaries for failing to release public records requested in April. Ex-CEO Rick May brought a lawsuit Wednesday in state district court in Santa Fe against Martinez and Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford.

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Oakland, Code for America unveil public records program

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.

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Shoreline Coalition for Open Government launches

The recently launched Shoreline Coalition for Open Government (ShoreCOG) acts as an independent, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and defending the Public’s right to know in matters of public interest and in the conduct of the public’s business. We modeled ShoreCOG after the highly respected Washington Coalition for Open Government.

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Oakmont (Ohio) talks behind closed doors on proposed gas station

Oakmont residents wanting to hear how the borough will respond to the Speedway gas station proposal were shut out of those deliberations on Monday. Council said little about the issue publicly and adjourned behind closed doors to discuss it in a private, executive session.

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Story County (Iowa) fights the fed to release public records

Attorneys representing the County government filed a motion in federal court on Monday asking to dismiss a federal action blocking the Story County Sheriff from releasing emails about the network called FirstNet. Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald, who sits on the First Responder Network Authority, a federal board overseeing the creation of the nationwide network, shared a letter with government investigators that said there was a conflict of interest between FirstNet board members and wireless carriers and that the system has been developed without a “public safety point of view,” according to Politico.

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Manhattan Beach (Ca.) city council oks remaining open government initiatives

After months of hanging low on the Manhattan Beach City Council’s meeting agenda, the city’s open government initiatives were adopted in full Tuesday following deliberations that resulted in several amendments. The Public Records Protocol Act was one of the six remaining initiatives that came before the council. Guided by the California Public Records Act, which establishes the public’s right to access records concerning the “conduct of the people’s business,” the protocol dictates a set procedure for city staff handling public record requests.

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Texas using custom-made drug to execute criminals: FOIA request

HOUSTON — Texas prison officials disclosed Wednesday that they are using a compounding pharmacy to obtain the drug used during executions. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, responding to a Freedom of Information request from The Associated Press, released documents showing the purchase of eight vials of pentobarbital last month from a compounding pharmacy in suburban Houston. Such pharmacies custom-make drugs but aren't subject to federal scrutiny.

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August 7, 2013 10:50 AM

From Dubuque Telegraph Herald:  When an individual makes an abrupt departure from a job within a public institution, those in charge will usually avoid discussing the circumstances of the departure with one simple claim: "It's a personnel issue. And personnel records can't be released to the public."

Only, that might not be quite accurate. The way Iowa Code chapter 22.7 is written, it can be interpreted to allow for the custodian of a record to use his or her discretion when it comes to the release of personnel information.

[...]

The recent case involving the firing of Division of Criminal Investigation Supervisor Larry Hedlund deserves such discretion. Hedlund claims his firing was brought about because he in April reported that a vehicle being driven by a state trooper and carrying the governor was traveling far in excess of the speed limit. Hedlund intends to file a wrongful-termination lawsuit, claiming the firing was in retaliation over bringing to light the governor's speeding vehicle and not because of anything in his personnel file.

The state says that's not the case. The firing, it insists, is based on job performance unrelated to the speeding report.

Get the rest here.

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April 12, 2013 9:32 AM

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.

 

Editorial: 2013 Legislature: Not worst on open-government issues, but could have done better

If the 2011 Utah State Legislature, which railroaded HB477 through, was regarded as the worst for access to public records, 2013 was a significant improvement. "In the end, it was good for open government," said Linda Petersen, president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

Pink slime data collected by Iowa state must remain behind curtain: Judge

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A judge has blocked Iowa State University from releasing documents about food safety research conducted for the beef-processing company that makes the product dubbed "pink slime" by critics. District Judge Dale Ruigh ruled last month that releasing the records would damage Beef Products, Inc. by revealing information about its proprietary food-processing techniques. Releasing them also would eliminate revenue that Iowa State laboratories receive from companies, who would go elsewhere for testing if they feared results were public records, he said.

Visit The Huffington Post for the rest.

Hospitals criticize Vermont open meetings bill

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The Shumlin administration and a Vermont hospital group on Wednesday opposed a bill that would apply the state’s open meetings law to hospitals. Backers like the group Vermont Health Care For All say the state spends nearly $1 billion a year in public money on hospitals, so the public has an interest in their operations and should be able to attend hospital board meetings.

Visit Boston.com for the rest.

Appeals court: SPD must pay $150,000 in public records case

A state appeals court has unanimously upheld a judge’s award of more than $150,000 to a man who was improperly denied public records by the Seattle Police Department. In a 3 to 0 decision, the court found that King County Superior Court Judge Richard Eadie did not abuse his discretion in granting a penalty of nearly $20,000 and $132,585 in attorney fees sums to Turner Helton, who sought records relating to an excessive-force complaint he brought against officers.

Visit The Seattle Times for the rest.

ACLU of Alaska investigates state’s unconstitutional censoring of Juneau Pro-Life protest

(SitNews) Anchorage, Alaska - The ACLU of Alaska Foundation asked the Governor’s Office and the Alaska Department of Administration this week to share the public records of how, for 45 minutes on Tuesday, April 2, 2013, official vehicles from the Department of Administration blocked a peaceful pro-life protest outside the Capitol in Juneau. ... The ACLU of Alaska asked not only for the “who, what, where, when, and why,” but also for the policies that led the Department of Administration to block these protestors. “We want to know why some state employees thought this was the right thing to do,” said Joshua A. Decker, the ACLU of Alaska attorney who sent today’s request, “and we want to make sure that the State is writing new procedures to make sure this is the last time Alaska blocks free, peaceful speech.”

Visit SitNews.us for the rest.

Government’s transparency debated at FOI symposium

Security needs are among the most commonly cited reasons for governmental secrecy. The federal government classifies massive amounts of information on national security grounds. And, as local government bodies in Connecticut have considered increased security measures following the Newtown school massacre, they have frequently wrestled with what information to make public and what to keep secret. At the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission’s annual conference on Tuesday, held at a banquet hall in Haddam, the main panel discussion focused on the other side of that issue: “Does government transparency enhance our safety and security?” The four panelists — two open government advocates and two government officials — agreed as a general matter that it does.

Visit JournalInquirer.com for the rest.

Editorial: Open government: See it can be done

City meetings in Lake City are, in many ways, an exercise in local government transparency. While we would be eager to say that the citizens of Lake City are the beneficiaries of this kind of openness, the sad part is there are virtually no citizens there to experience it or benefit from it.

Visit Clayton News Daily for the rest.

Audio: Pat Rogers calls reporter a dumb fuck, vows to sue somebody

Readers might recall Rogers was the attorney, lobbyist and Republican National Committeeman who resigned from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and from his law firm last summer after SFR and other media outlets revealed he communicated with top staffers of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez' administration on their private email accounts. The attorney hailed for his commitment to open government had in fact been connecting top Martinez staffers with his corporate clients in the shadows of a private email network—further away from those pesky open records laws that allow citizens to inspect emails of government officials concerning state business.

Visit Sante Fe Reporter for the rest.

Not so public: Hawaii withholds prison death records, get sued

A law firm has paid the Hawaii Department of Public Safety $5,300 for public records, but state officials have yet to produce a single document, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the ACLU of Hawaii. The records pertain to wrongful death cases of two Hawaii inmates who died while in the custody of Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company that has a lucrative contract to house thousands of the state’s prisoners on the mainland.

Visit Honolulu Civil Beat for the rest.

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.

August 7, 2012 2:23 PM

From Des Moines Register:

The state of Iowa will pay $30,500 in legal fees accumulated by a newspaper in a lawsuit over access to records from the University of Iowa.

In a case that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, the university won the right to withhold certain records requested by the Iowa City Press-Citizen in 2007. But the courts ruled that other documents sought in the suit were public records and ordered their release.

July 16, 2012 5:31 PM

From The Daily Iowan:

The Iowa Supreme Court on July 13 ruled that the University of Iowa is not obligated to turn over student records to the Iowa City Press-Citizen related to a 2007 sexual-assault investigation.

The court ruled 4-3 that the university does not need to hand over student records to the newspaper, after the UI had been forced to hand more than hundreds of other documents following the lawsuit.

July 6, 2012 12:09 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:

Reverse surveillance: ACLU-NJ’s police tape app lets you secretly record any video interactions with cops

In a move to help guard civilians against police officers who may abuse their power, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, or ACLU-NJ, released the Police Tape app this week, enabling regular citizens to secretly record or video the interactions they have with cops.

The civil rights organization rolled out the app in time for the July 4 holiday. It said this is because altercations often happen between citizens and seasonal police at the shore during the summer vacation season.

Visit The International Business Times for the rest.

Open records request partially granted

The Dyersville Commercial received some clarification on its June 12 open records request concerning the “Citizens of Dyersville” Facebook page created by Dyersville City Council Member Molly Evers.

[...]

In a letter to the Commercial dated July 2 (which is being run on the editorial page in this week’s edition), Evers states that “Iowa law provides for the redaction of those citizens’ identities, when it is reasonable to assume they would have been discouraged from making comments had they known their comments would be subject to public examination.”

Visit Dyersville Commercial for the rest.

N.J. Supreme Court: Law school clinics’ case records are not public documents

TRENTON — The developer of an outlet mall in Sussex County can’t get records from a Rutgers University law clinic that represented two groups seeking to block its construction, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

[...]

The ruling says the Rutgers Environmental Law Clinic, a training ground for Rutgers law students that handles cases for little or no cost, is not subject to the state’s public records law.

Visit NJ.com for the rest.

Indiana officials who deny access to public records now face fines

Indiana government officials who intentionally violate public access laws now face fines of $100 for the first offense and $500 after that under a new law that took effect July 1.

The law, approved during the 2012 legislative session, was an effort to create a way to penalize those who ignore open-government laws that are already on the books.

Visit The Courier & Press for the rest.

June 25, 2012 1:55 PM

From The Des Moines Register:

Additional email exchanges between former Des Moines schools superintendent Nancy Sebring and her male lover became public Friday after a Polk County judge refused to block their release.

[...]

District Judge Robert Hanson’s ruling on Friday said Sebring’s argument that “purely personal communications” aren’t matters of public interest “indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what the public interest is.”

June 7, 2012 3:28 PM

From The Des Moines Register:

The release of additional emails sent or received by former superintendent Nancy Sebring should remain available to the public under Iowa's open records law, according to papers filed today on behalf of the Des Moines school district.
 
Sebring on Wednesday requested an injunction that would stop the school district from releasing additional personal emails sent and received on the district’s public account.
It would be wrong for the court to block release of additional emails, even ones that may prove embarrassing to Sebring. 

April 26, 2012 3:41 PM

From DesMoinesRegister.com:

Iowa is getting a new state agency dedicated to enforcement of open government.

The Senate on Monday approved the bill, Senate File 430, on a 49-0 vote, sending the legislation to Gov. Terry Branstad, who championed the bill as one of his top legislative priorities this year.

April 19, 2012 2:28 PM

From Radio Iowa:

An effort to put more teeth in Iowa’s “sunshine” laws is on Governor Branstad’s “must-do” list for legislators. “We feel strongly that’s something that’s needed,” Branstad says. “We need an enforcement mechanism for the open meetings/open records law. They should not adjourn without doing that.”

The Republican-led House voted Tuesday to accept much of what the Democratically-led Senate wants in order to more strictly enforce Iowa’s open meetings and open records laws. Representative Vicki Lensing, a Democrat from Iowa City, says she’s heard plenty of complaints about local governments that haven’t followed the law.

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