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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September 25, 2013 12:37 PM

From Mlive.com: DETROIT, MI — Mayor Dave Bing is credited with restoring a level of dignity to Detroit government in the wake of the Kwame Kilpatrick administration, but there is still work to be done.

"Building an honest and open government" is the topic of a discussion at Wayne State University from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 21 in the law school's Patriarch Auditorium.

Visit Mlive.com for more.

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May 14, 2013 2:29 PM

From San Francisco Chronicle:  LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan House committee is expected to take up a bill that would restrict how much government agencies can charge for Freedom of Information Act requests.

The House Oversight Committee is expected to consider the bill Tuesday. It would prohibit a public body from charging more than 10 cents a page for a copy of public record under the act.

 

May 3, 2013 1:26 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. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

 

Blackfoot woman receives Idaho open government award

BLACKFOOT — Retired Blackfoot High School teacher and active substitute teacher Joyce Bingham never expected to receive an award for becoming a champion of open government. ... Bingham will receive the award and accompanying $1,000 prize at an awards luncheon scheduled for Saturday in Boise.

Visit Idaho State Journal for the rest.

Illinois lawsuit filed in police document case

A Springfield man is suing the city, claiming the police department improperly destroyed documents in an internal affairs file that he had requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. Calvin Christian III, a reporter for the Pure News USA Newspaper, is requesting that the city check to see if any employees have copies of the destroyed files, and that an expert examine the city’s computer system to determine if the files are retrievable in electronic form. If there are no copies, he’s asking that witnesses be re-interviewed.

Visit The State Journal-Register for the rest.

The Tornoe Spin: Open government in Delaware

With Delaware lawmakers considering big legislation like Marriage Equality, gun control and the death penalty, an equally-import group of bills is getting almost no attention from the majority, and very little play by media outlets. Back in March, Republicans introduced five bills that attempt to make Legislative Hall and state government more open and transparent. The bills not only include calls for tighter requirements on reporting gifts and tax disclosures, they ban legislators from seeking state employment after being elected (the so-called "double-dippers") and bar former legislators from acting as lobbyists for two years after they leave office.

Visit NewsWorks.org for the rest.

FOIA documents cause controversy for Troy city councilman, Michigan

Just days before the Troy special mayoral election, some residents are trying to piece together FOIA documents to figure out what was happening behind the scenes in the state and city’s dispute late last year on holding a special election. Troy City Councilman Doug Tietz is receiving criticism from residents who say he was working against his city to benefit his own political agenda and has violated council rules because he has a conflict of interest.

Visit The Oakland Press for the rest.

Provost’s office denies access to open records

The provost’s office could be in violation of Oklahoma’s Open Records Act by forcing faculty to sue for personnel records related to tenure appointments. Most employment records are not open to the public, but the Open Records Act expressly states personnel records should be given to the employee. The act reads: “Except as may otherwise be made confidential by statute, an employee of a public body shall have a right of access to his own personnel file.”

Visit The Oklahoma Daily for the rest.

A new plateau for public info

Finger Lakes, N.Y. — Mountains of data on everything from nursing homes to radon gas, from restaurant inspections to state aid for schools is accessible via a few clicks on one website: Open.ny.gov. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the addition of millions more records added to the mix that can be searched by keyword; cross-referenced with other public datasets; downloaded for analysis; and graphed, mapped or charted using tools on the website.

Visit MPNnow.com for the rest.

Louisiana judge rules against Reveille in public records suit

A state district judge refused Tuesday to order LSU’s Board of Supervisors to make public the names of 35 candidates for the recently filled position of president and chancellor, rejecting a petition by the editor of LSU’s student newspaper. Judge Timothy Kelley agreed with the attorney for the university that the 35 candidates were not formal applicants for the position and therefore were not subject to disclosure under the state’s public records laws.

Visit The Advocate for the rest.

SF mayor signs landmark open data policy and procedures legislation

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee last week signed into law the Citywide Coordination of Open Data Policy and Procedures legislation introduced jointly with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. This new landmark Open Data law establishes the position and duties of a new chief data officer to be appointed by the mayor, and orders that departmental data coordinators assist in the implementation of the Open Data Policy. The ordinance also establishes rules and procedures for making open data available through the city’s open data Web portal.

Visit Government Technology for the rest.

Florida lawmakers considering public records exemptions

TALLAHASSEE - Florida lawmakers are considering a wide range of public-records exemptions – some technicalities, others clouding the state's “Government in the Sunshine” traditions – as they head into the final week of their 2013 legislative session. ... Proponents of the measures, on the other hand, argue in some cases that exempting certain information from public disclosure will protect people from harm and make the state more attractive to job-creating businesses.

Visit The Tampa Tribune for the rest.

Proposed bill would cap Michigan FOIA fees

LANSING — A state Republican lawmaker who represents part of Eaton County is again trying to limit the amount of money governments can charge to honor Michigan residents’ requests for public information. But his plan faces initial resistance from lobbyists representing Michigan communities.

Visit Lansing State Journal for the rest.

Capital outlay documents raise questions of NM open records act

State legislators are apparently not legally required to reveal details of how they spend taxpayers’ money. While investigating a story about “A Park Above” — a planned park for Rio Rancho that would provide equipment that would allow disabled children and adults to play alongside their non-disabled peers — the Observer discovered a legal exemption to the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act for legislators.

Visit Rio Rancho Observer for the rest.

Gun-control law to make ownership records private

A little-noticed provision tucked at the end of the sweeping gun legislation approved by the General Assembly last month would shield from view key state gun records that now are public — a change that was pushed by gun-rights advocates during the intense legislative debate and passed unknown to the most ardent gun-control supporters. Current laws allow the Maryland State Police to release the names of people who apply to buy guns, who hold collector's licenses and concealed-carry permits, as well as details about weapon sales. Under the new gun bill, which Gov. Martin O'Malley has said he will sign, that information would no longer be available to the public.

Visit The Baltimore Sun for the rest.

Court nixes damages against N.M. attorney general

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The state Court of Appeals has overturned damages against Attorney General Gary King for withholding public records requested by a lawyer handling a pay discrimination case against King. The court said Thursday a district court judge in Albuquerque failed to provide evidence to support $100-a-day damages against the attorney general.

Visit ConnectAmarillo.com for the rest.

April 30, 2013 1:59 PM

From Midland Daily News:

An appeal of a Michigan Freedom of Information Act, submitted by the Midland Daily News to Midland County, will now proceed to the full board after the county’s Human Services Committee recommended denying the appeal.

Attempting to gain copies of a report of an investigation of Chief District Court Judge John H. Hart, the Daily News originally submitted the FOIA to Midland County Administrator/Controller Bridgette Gransden on March 14. The report, composed in the summer of 2012 after allegations of sexual harassment against Hart surfaced, was confirmed by former Midland County Circuit Court Judge and Chief Judge of the Midland County Trial Court Jonathan E. Lauderbach.



April 26, 2013 11:01 AM

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.

 

New Mexico court nixes damages against NM attorney general

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state Court of Appeals has overturned damages against Attorney General Gary King for withholding public records requested by a lawyer handling a pay discrimination case against King. The court said Thursday a district court judge in Albuquerque failed to provide evidence to support $100-a-day damages against the attorney general.

Visit San Francisco Chronicle for the rest.

Pa. open records advocates getting mixed results

Officials must release the names of Pennsylvania's 22,000 certified police officers, the state Office of Open Records ruled earlier this week. Siding with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which requested a statewide roster of municipal police officers from the Pennsylvania State Police in February and was turned down, the open government agency said security concerns aren't enough of a reason to keep the list secret.

Visit Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the rest.

Bill on gun-permit records again falls short in Nebraska Legislature

LINCOLN — For the second time this session, a legislative committee shot down a proposal to ban the public release of the names and addresses of Nebraskans who obtain state permits to buy handguns. ... The Legislature's Judiciary Committee took a second vote Thursday on advancing an amended version of the gun-records bill, after an earlier vote ended in a 4-4 deadlock.

Visit Omaha World-Herald for the rest.

Names of LSU presidential finalists must be made public, judge rules

LOUISIANA — A Louisiana newspaper has won its lawsuit against Louisiana State University, with a ruling that makes presidential search candidates’ names public record. Thursday, a state judge said that LSU must disclose the names of finalists that were considered by the search committee because they are public records, The Advocate reported.

Visit Student Press Law Center for the rest.

Florida voters’ email addresses will remain secret, House decides

TALLAHASSEE -- Email addresses of voters will be secret under a bill the House passed and sent to the Senate Thursday. The House voted 114-1 to create the public records exemption, despite the opposition of the First Amendment Foundation, an open-government watchdog group backed by many of Florida’s newspapers.

Visit The Miami Herald for the rest.

Washington Supreme Court limits public access to hospital privileging, peer review documents

Public hospital districts may not disclose certain records created during closed-door meetings about hospital privileging decisions, the Washington Supreme Court recently held in Cornu-Labat v. Hospital Dist. No. 2 Grant Cnty., No. 86842-5, --- P.3d ----, 2013 WL 1490590 (April 11, 2013) (en banc) . The decision also could lead to broader withholding of documents related to the “peer-review” committees that assess patient care. The case stems from a terminated doctor’s attempts to obtain, under the state Public Records Act (PRA), documents related to his employment at Quincy Valley Medical Center.

Visit Lexology for the rest.

Hills chief to testify for ban on release of 911 calls, Michigan

Farmington Hills Police Chief Chuck Nebus will tell state Legislators next week how he was bombarded with media requests for tapes of the 911 phone call immediately following the baseball bat beating death of resident Bob Cipriano in 2011. Nebus will testify before the state House Oversight Committee Tuesday, April 30, in favor a bill that would prohibit the immediate public disclosure of 911 emergency calls.

Visit Observer & Eccentric for the rest.

New Hampshire newspaper seeks access to Marriott murder case records

DOVER — Foster’s Daily Democrat has once again asked the trial court in Dover to provide access to public records that were sealed in October following the murder of a University of New Hampshire sophomore. A petition filed in the 7th Circuit Court in Dover Wednesday requests access to the warrants obtained by police as they investigated the disappearance and murder of 19-year-old Elizabeth Marriott.

Visit Foster’s Daily Democrat for the rest.

Pa. Open Records Office keeps facing new challenges

HARRISBURG - When the Office of Open Records was created by Pennsylvania's landmark 2008 Right-to-Know Law, there was no precedent for how an independent agency would handle citizen appeals for government documents. There weren't even a logo or office furniture. Now, five years and more than 6,000 cases after the appointment of its first director, the office confronts new challenges: handling nearly double the caseload from when its doors opened in 2009, and dueling with government agencies that keep finding reasons to turn down citizens' requests.

Visit Philly.com for the rest.

LA public records bill gets support from press association

BATON ROUGE — A Lafourche Parish lawmaker said Tuesday he has the support of the Louisiana Press Association in his efforts to open up more public records in the Governor’s Office. House Bill 19 by Rep. Dee Richard of Thibodaux, who has no party affiliation, would eliminate a commonly used exemption that shields records in the executive branch from public view.

Visit houmatoday.com for the rest.

Opening Data in Raleigh, NC

Raleigh’s new open government portal won’t be fully launched until September, but the city’s new open data manager Jason Hare is working to get as much data online and accessible before then. The portal is still in its “soft launch” phase, but Hare said recently this is more than just a new website for sharing the city’s datasets. He hopes open data will be integrated into the way all city departments work. Members of the City Council pushed last year to make city data available online and put a little money behind the idea to hire Hare to collect the data and build a new site. The open data portal launched in March and continues to be updated with big sets of data including building permits, police and fire incidents, trail maps and other digital information collected and created by the city.

Visit Raleigh Public Record for the rest.

New York City builds on its technology base

A massive data center -- 32 stories high and 1 million square feet in size -- opened last month in New York City. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, on hand for the launch, called it the latest sign of New York's emergence as a global technology center. That emergence didn't happen by accident. The city has been broadening its tech base since Bloomberg took office in 2002, encouraging Silicon Valley companies to make New York their second home, deploying Wi-Fi in parks and other public places, sponsoring application development competitions and using analytics to bring new efficiency to municipal operations.

Visit Information Week for the rest.

March 7, 2013 1:37 PM

From Detroit Free Press:

LANSING -- When Nancy Prins sent the Michigan State Police a Freedom of Information Act request in July 2008, asking for police video of her May traffic stop, she was told it was not available because the department only keeps such videos for 30 days.

A few months later, when the seat belt case involving Prins and her passenger came to trial in Ionia County, state police introduced the video of the traffic stop as evidence.

So, Prins sued State Police for violating the state FOIA law. She lost her case in circuit court, but won on appeal.



March 7, 2013 1:32 PM

From Sunshine Week:

Welcome to Sunshine Week, and no, I am not talking about the fickle weather in the state. I am talking about the public’s right and responsibility to keep an eye on what our government at the local, state and federal level are up to from our legislators to our bureaucrats, school boards, state universities, teachers, mayors, managers, department heads, council members, cops and others.

Sunshine Week, a national initiative to encourage discussion on the importance of open government and freedom of information, is celebrated annually in mid-March to coincide with James Madison’s March 16 birthday.

Sunshine Week is also the official launch of the Michigan Coalition for Open Government (MiCOG). Michigan was one of just two states (the other is Alaska) without an open government group.

MiCOG’s purpose is three-fold:

  • to promote and protect transparency and accountability in state and local governments;

  • to recommend significant freedom of information, open meetings and public access legal cases to the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) for financial support,

  • and to create educational programs and information.

And MiCOG invites you to join its efforts.

Why? Citizens and journalists are having greater difficulty obtaining public documents from government agencies. They are deterred by long delays in responses and high fees. Most individuals and smaller news organizations do not have the resources to mount legal challenges in FOIA and OMA cases.

But MiCOG can help with that. MiCOG makes citizens and news media in our state eligible to access some of the $2 million the Knight Foundation gave to NFOIC to fund worthwhile open access litigation. If the plaintiff prevails and recovers attorney fees and court costs (as required under Michigan’s FOI and OMA), that money goes back to the national group for future lawsuits around the nation. The NFOIC relies on state open government groups to recommend cases that could tap into the Knight funds. The national committee decides whether to back a case financially. One key role of MiCOG’s board is to make certain that only cases with good sets of facts go to court to make good law.

See the rest at Sunshine Week.

The Michigan Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

November 27, 2012 2:13 PM

From Courthouse News Service:

DETROIT (Nov 27, 2012) - Wayne State University is exempt from answering a FOIA request about its use of dogs in medical research, because the last time it did "animal rights extremists" threatened its researchers with "torture and death," the university claims in court.

The university sued the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in Wayne County Court.

Wayne State claims it released records in 2011 to the Physicians Committee, which sought information on the university's use of dogs in cardiovascular research.

September 20, 2012 2:45 PM

From LSJ.com:

A bill introduced last week in the Michigan House would take some strong steps toward improving citizen access to government records and deserves bipartisan support.

Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, introduced HB 5879, several amendments to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act that would limit the fees government agencies can charge for copying records and increase fines charged to governmental units that fail to comply with the act.

August 24, 2012 3:27 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:

Judge to hear arguments in public records dispute

DOVER — A Superior Court judge has scheduled oral arguments in a case that will determine if a Kent County sewer and water utility is subject to Delaware’s public records law or if the entity can continue to keep its detailed financial and operational documents private.

Visit Delaware Online for the rest.

Phone bill ruling confirms public's right to know

A ruling by Superior Court Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. regarding a former UNC-Chapel Hill football coach's cell phone bills applies to all public officials and employees. In response to a public records challenge, Manning ruled that the telephone bills of former UNC coach Butch Davis are in the public domain and as such must be disclosed.

Visit Hickory Daily Record for the rest.

Public records advocate sues school board over release of emails

BARTOW | A Lakeland open government activist is suing the Polk County School Board for what he contends is the board's unlawful refusal to provide public records. Joel Chandler filed a Circuit Court lawsuit Wednesday against the School Board and Superintendent Sherrie Nickell. Chandler is trying to get access to hundreds of potential emails exchanged between School Board members Frank O'Reilly and Kay Fields during four months of 2011.

Visit The Ledger for the rest.

'We the People' goes open-source

The Obama administration's "We the People" online petitions platform has been open-sourced, allowing other individuals or groups to tailor the system for their own use. The "We the People" code was released under the GNU General Public License yesterday, and is now available on GitHub

Visit CNET for the rest.

Daugaard and South Dakota AG urge open government

PIERRE | Gov. Dennis Daugaard said Wednesday that South Dakota government should be as open as possible so people can find out what the state and local governments are doing. Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley appointed the 33-member task force, which intends to recommend changes in laws dealing with open meetings and the availability of documents held by state agencies and local governments. The panel includes representatives of news organizations, law enforcement officials and prosecutors, and officials from cities, counties and school districts.

Visit Rapid City Journal for the rest.

Durand officials, businessman clash over FOIA fees

DURAND — A new dispute between local business owner Carl Hatley and Durand officials concerns the city’s cost estimate of more than $11,000 to produce public records requested by Hatley through the Freedom of Information Act. Officials say the fee is justified by the broad scope of the request, while Hatley, the owner of Railway Pizza on Saginaw Street, says language on the city’s website — an “error” that was removed after he made the request — indicates he shouldn’t be charged anything.

Visit The Argus-Press for the rest.

California Legislature: Open data initiative to see final vote next week

The California Public Records Act requires state and local government agencies make documents not exempt from disclosure available to the public upon request so that residents can monitor how their government is functioning. Currently agencies are required to produce any electronic document considered a public record in whichever electronic format the document is maintained. A bill authored by Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) would create an open data standard for electronic documents making government more transparent and accountable.

Visit California Forward for the rest.

Open government: It is the principle of naming school principal that matters

Governing groups can go into executive session -- which means behind a closed door, shut off from the public -- for specific matters, such as negotiations. But they must vote openly, as required under the Freedom of Information Act, which has guided public disclosure for more than 35 years in Connecticut. The Danbury Board of Education did vote in public, but did not disclose who they were voting for as the new principal of Stadley Rough Elementary School.

Visit The News-Times for the rest.

June 21, 2012 1:20 PM

From Market Watch:

LANSING, Mich., Jun 20, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The Brain Injury Association of Michigan (BIAMI) today filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) to obtain vital financial information, specific claimant records and actuarial standards under the principles of Michigan's common law on behalf of all auto-insured citizens and all catastrophically-injured survivors across the state. The information is critical in revealing to Michigan citizens and Lansing lawmakers the rationale behind the insurance industry's claims that Michigan's current auto no-fault system is financially unsustainable and that the MCCA will soon go bankrupt without capping benefits and enforcing strict cost controls.

To date, the MCCA has continued to assert its claim of exemption from all attempts to secure this essential information -- including the recently-filed FOIA lawsuit by the Coalition to Protect Auto No-Fault (CPAN) -- effectively blocking the ability of all concerned parties to assess the no-fault system, address its shortfalls, and collaborate on appropriate solutions to fix the system without sacrificing no-fault's core principle of immediate access to appropriate, unlimited care for catastrophically-injured victims.

May 10, 2012 1:34 AM

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:

Is secrecy justified in George Zimmerman case?

On the very first day George Zimmerman faced a judge on charges of murdering Trayvon Martin, it appeared the special prosecutor and Zimmerman's attorney were working together to keep certain records secret.

Visit ClickOrlando for the rest.

Latest Batch of DHS Occupy Documents Contains New Details About Monitoring of Protest Movement

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)released another batch of documentsThursday morning in response to Truthout's wide-ranging Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request pertaining to the agency's role in monitoring the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest movement.

Visit Truthout for the rest.

A welcome FOIA bill

The S.C. House struck a blow for transparency in government last week, passing a bill to streamline the state’s open records law. We hope the state Senate now will follow suit – and that Gov. Nikki Haley will sign the bill once it is passed.

Visit Herald Online for the rest.

MSU was following FOIA law in redacting portions of state Rep. Bob Genetski's drunken driving arrest video

Michigan State University wasn't protecting state Rep. Bob Genetski when it redacted portions of police video of his Jan. 19 drunken driving arrest, according to spokesman Kent Cassella.

Visit MLive.com for the rest.

Judge temporarily blocks release of PPL data

A federal judge has blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing data about PPL Corp.'s Colstrip power plant in southeastern Montana to two environmental groups until a challenge by the plant's operator can be heard.

Visit CNBC.com for the rest.

Arkansas Open Meetings Law under attack

Currently a lawsuit is going to the Arkansas Supreme Court that will decide past Fort Smith City Administrator Dennis Kelly violated the open meetings act.  It is alleged he discussed city business with several city directors in a series of private, one-on-one conversations in 2009.

Visit Sunshine Review for the rest.

Defense Department Releases Indexes to Joint Chiefs of Staff Filing System

Researchers interested in modern U.S. military history will benefit from FOIA releases by the Department of Defense on the record-keeping system of Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-level organization in the U.S. military command system.

Visit Unredacted for the rest.

“That’s personnel” is rarely the right response

How public employees are performing their jobs (or whether they’re showing up at all) would appear to be pretty essential information for journalists (or just inquisitive citizens) to figure out whether government agencies are, or aren’t, working effectively.

Visit SPLC.org for the rest.

GAP Hails Senate Passage of Federal Whistleblower Protection

Washington, D.C. – The Government Accountability Project (GAP) hailed last night's 'Unanimous Consent' approval by the US Senate of S. 743, the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA). The legislation provides millions of federal workers with the rights they need to safely report corruption from inside the federal bureaucracy.

Visit Whistleblower.org for the rest.

Secret files missing at National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration has lost track of dozens of boxes of confidential and secret government files at its records center just outside of Washington, the latest in a series of such incidents spanning more than a decade.

Visit WashingtonTimes.com for the rest.

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