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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December 9, 2013 8:56 PM

From The Republic: SANTA FE, New Mexico — A judge has ruled that government agencies don't have to disclose an audit of more than a dozen mental health providers under investigation for possible overbillings and fraud, because the audit contains law enforcement materials that are confidential.

State District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe agreed with Attorney General Gary King's office in a lawsuit by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government seeking to force disclosure of the audit, which the state used to freeze Medicaid payments to the behavioral health providers.

Only a small part of the more-than-300-page audit has been publicly disclosed by the Human Services Department and the attorney general, which is investigating the allegations against providers of mental health and substance abuse services.

The judge said that withheld portions of the audit are law enforcement materials protected from disclosure under the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Visit The Republic for the complete article.

Also, for more background, please see:

New Mexico judge to review behavioral Health Audit

New Mexico Attorney General and Human Services Department release heavily redacted behavioral health audit

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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December 6, 2013 12:42 PM

From Las Cruces Sun-News: SANTA FE - The Associated Press filed lawsuits Thursday against Gov. Susana Martinez and administration agencies for refusing to release records about her work and travel schedules, cell phone calls and expenses of the security officers who travel with the governor.

The lawsuits alleging violations of the Inspection of Public Records Act are the latest by media and watchdog groups against Martinez, who has promoted herself as a strong advocate of a transparent government.

Visit Las Cruces Sun-News for more.

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November 22, 2013 2:24 PM

Press release from The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government: Albuquerque - In response to a lawsuit filed by The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG), District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has decided she will review the behavioral health audit for items to be disclosed or kept confidential.

During the proceeding, the Attorney General's made note that they believe the audit should be kept confidential, even after the investigation has been completed, which we found quite disturbing. NMFOG is hopeful in the release of the redacted audit.

NMFOG had been forced to file the lawsuit in State District Court in Santa Fe in mid-September after the Attorney General and HSD had refused NMFOG's request for the report, providing only a heavily redacted version. To see the full text of the released Behavioral Health Audit, see "NMFOG in the news" section on the www.nmfog.org website.

Please contact Greg Williams at gwilliams@peiferlaw.com or (505) 238-8120 for more details.

Please find the press release here. In addition, you can read our blog post, NMFOG sues AG's office, HSD to release behaviorla health audit, for more background.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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November 22, 2013 1:17 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.

Minnesota high court: Business not subject to open-records laws

image of Access keyThe Minnesota Supreme Court ruling reversed a Court of Appeals decision in case involving an Ely newspaper. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a private business that contracted with a northern school district to renovate buildings isn’t subject to state open-records laws. The ruling means that Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls doesn’t have to reveal to Timberjay Newspapers of Tower, Minn., details of its subcontract with a Minnesota architectural firm to build schools in St. Louis County. The high court reversed the Appeals Court’s October ruling, which had been viewed as a victory for public access to government contracts.

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Vanderbilt rape records request denied again, Tennessee

Nashville officials on Thursday again denied a request for records related to the investigation of a June 23 incident in which four football players at Vanderbilt University are accused of raping an unconscious female student. The Tennessean and its attorney are weighing their response.

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N.M. Judge says state can keep audit secret

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — The state can keep secret an audit that prompted it to freeze payments to providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment, a state district judge ruled Thursday. Judge Douglas Driggers rejected a request by the Las Cruces Sun-News and New Mexico In Depth to order the Human Services Department to release the audit under state open records laws. But he did leave open the possibility of a new hearing in six months to see if more of the 300-page document can be released later.

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Clinton records trial delayed to Jan. 30, IA

CLINTON — A trial on the enforcement actions related to the city of Clinton not releasing records of closed sessions has been continued. In a summary judgment issued Tuesday, the city was found to have violated the state open records law in not releasing the records of a series of six closed meetings held regarding the lawsuit filed over the ambulance service billing practices. The Wednesday trial was to present arguments on the penalties and enforcement.

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Conservative thinktank wants emails of outspoken UNC law professor

The Civitas Institute, a Raleigh-based conservative group, has filed a public records request for emails and correspondence of Gene Nichol, a tenured University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill law professor who has been critical of McCrory Administration policies. The public records request for Nichol’s emails was reported Thursday afternoon by Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies, a group which has closely tracked spending by Art Pope, a wealthy Republican donor serving as McCrory’s budget director. Civitas is funded almost entirely by a family foundation run by Pope.

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Another View: FOIA fixes would help, Michigan

A committee in the Michigan House has sent a bill making essential improvements to the state's Freedom of Information Act to the full chamber for consideration, likely later this year. That is good news for media organizations that fight battles to get public information on a regular basis. But it's even better news for citizens, who are entitled to see records that let them evaluate the quality of their government.

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PA local agencies may have violated law

Two local government entities may have violated the state's Open Meetings Law, also known as the Sunshine Act, related to how officials handled executive sessions in October. The Express documented how local government handled executive sessions during October. During that time period, Keystone Central School Board and Wayne Township's Board of Supervisors went into executive sessions during public meetings and the boards may have violated the Sunshine Act after potentially failing to offer proper explanation for the executive sessions, according to case law and a legal expert's interpretation of the law.

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Sterling cancels mediation hearing in FL public records case

A hearing set for this morning in a lawsuit involving a public records request for a town official’s emails was cancelled Wednesday afternoon.
Sterling Palm Beach had asked for mediation in hopes of resolving key issues prior to a Dec. 13 hearing involving documents related to lease negotiations for the Royal Poinciana Playhouse. However, Sterling cancelled the hearing, which was a request to set mediation. Calls to John Little, Sterling’s attorney, were not returned.

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Wyo. Supreme Court hears arguments in records case involving frack chemical trade secrets

CHEYENNE, Wyoming — The state Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a trade secrets exemption in Wyoming's public records law may be invoked to shield from disclosure many of the chemicals the petroleum industry uses in hydraulic fracturing. The landowner group Powder River Basin Resource Council and environmentalists including the Wyoming Outdoor Council argued that individual ingredients in the various chemical products used during hydraulic fracturing can't be considered trade secrets. Therefore, they say, the information on file with the state must be disclosed to the public.

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Colorado couple sues town for records in February police shooting

The ACLU and a Castle Rock couple whose car was hit by a police officer's bullet while he was responding to a burglary in February are suing town officials for records related to the shooting and the officer's conduct. Town and police officials have repeatedly denied Michael and Susan Cardellas' open-records requests for documents detailing the internal investigation into the Feb. 21 shooting, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday. The couple also wants information concerning Officer Terry Watts' conduct about 1 p.m. that day, when he fired his rifle at fleeing burglary suspects in a Ford Explorer.

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University of Central Florida ignores FOIA request

A federal judge has ordered UCF to release documents involved in a same-sex parenting study, but UCF has obtained legal counsel in efforts to block the release. More than 50,000 documents relating to the parenting study, which appeared in Social Science Research — a publication housed at UCF — have been requested, but not submitted.

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Journalism background expected to serve new asst. attorney general in Washington well

OLYMPIA – Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced on Monday that he has selected Olympia attorney Nancy Krier to serve full time as the office’s Open Government Assistant Attorney General. Prior to pursuing her law degree at the University of Washington, Krier worked several years as a reporter.

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CT lawmaker scrambles after political consulting revelations

Rep. Geoffrey Luxenberg tried to skirt open-government laws by directing a state legislative aide to communicate with him by text message to his personal cellphone or to a personal email account. The Democrat from Manchester also asked legislative staffers to draft “talking points” to help him and his “surrogates” in interviews with reporters. The staffers told him they couldn’t do that because the issue involved his private business, not his actions as a state representative.

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Idaho open government group objects to closed Twin Falls meetings

TWIN FALLS • Idahoans for Openness in Government filed a complaint against the city of Twin Falls Tuesday, claiming city officials have repeatedly violated the state’s open meeting law. The complaint stems from the city’s use of closed subcommittees. The panels are made up of fewer than four City Council members, plus city staff and citizens. The groups make recommendations on who should fill open city positions and on city finances, for example.

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October 21, 2013 12:05 PM

Press release from The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government:  Albuquerque - In response to a lawsuit filed by The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG), the Attorney General of New Mexico and the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) today (Oct. 18, 2013) released some new portions of the Behavioral Health Audit report, which HSD relied upon in halting Medicaid payments to health care providers in New Mexico until new management was put in place.

NMFOG had been forced to file the lawsuit in State District Court in Sante Fe in mid September after the Attorney General and HSD had refused NMFOG's request for the report, providing only a heavily redacted version.

The Attorney General and HSD still refuse to release the entire report. The version released today is still significantly redacted, and FOG will continue its efforts to obtain release of the full report. To see the full text of the released Behavioral Health Audit, see "NMFOG in the News" section on the www.nmfog.org website.

Please contact Greg Williams at Greg Williams at gwilliams@peiferlaw.com or (505) 238-8120 for more details.

Visit The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government for more, and find the complete press release here.

Also, please read an article, New portion of audit released; hundreds of pages still secret, from KUNM.org: A portion of an audit released Friday by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office with many details blacked out shed little light on why the state froze Medicaid payments to 15 New Mexico behavioral health providers.

At the same time, the 58-page document raised tantalizing questions.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) released the document to the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which posted the document on its website Friday evening.

Most of the 400-page audit remains undisclosed despite lawsuits by New Mexico In Depth, the Las Cruces Sun-News and the Foundation for Open Government demanding public release of the audit.

[...]

Despite receiving the newly released portion of the audit, one officer of the Foundation for Open Government lamented Friday at how few revelations were contained in the document.

“We are not satisfied with what we received today,” FOG Board treasurer Gregory P. Williams was quoted by KRQE-TV in Albuquerque as saying. “We have not received anything of the substance of the report, so the public still has no idea why funding was stopped to all of these entities.”

Visit KUNM.org for more.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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October 16, 2013 11:20 AM

From Santa Fe New Mexican: Just weeks before the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sued Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration for withholding a controversial audit report, the chairwoman of the foundation’s executive board was pitching the idea of giving Martinez — as well as Attorney General Gary King — an award for government transparency.

This is documented in emails released to The New Mexican by Terry Schleder, who recently was ousted as executive director of the organization for alleged “insubordination.” Schleder expressed concerns over a conservative tilt on the FOG executive board and called the awards discussion an example of FOG being too concerned with “protecting the powerful.”

[...]

FOG’s executive board chairwoman, Terri Cole, who also is executive director of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, denied Monday that the open-government organization leans conservative. “It is a very well-balanced board,” she said.

Cole said she saw no irony in nominating Martinez and King for a William S. Dixon Award — despite the fact that the governor has been the defendant in public-records suits and King was found by a judge to be in violation of the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

Visit Santa Fe New Mexican for more.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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September 18, 2013 11:33 AM

From New Mexico Telegram: An open government group announced it would sue for the release of a behavioral health audit from the Attorney General’s office as well as the Human Services Department.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government made the announcement in a Tuesday afternoon press release.

“The audit report was significant enough to cause HSD to suspend Medicaid payments to 15 behavioral health providers in New Mexico,” said Gregory P. Williams, an officer of FOG. “The report is too important to the citizens of New Mexico to be kept from public view, and in our view New Mexico law does not permit it to be withheld. If it is protected as a law enforcement record, the burden is on the Attorney General to show how its release would jeopardize the investigation.”

The group said it was suing through the Inspection of Public Records Act. NM FOG wants for unredacted versions of the audit to be released.

[...]

This is not the first lawsuit seeking a release of the audit.

New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-News previously filed a lawsuit seeking the release. The Las cruces Sun-News is a partner with New Mexico In Depth.

Visit New Mexico Telegram for more.

Please also see Government Advocates File Suit for Secret Behavioral Health Audit from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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August 29, 2013 9:38 AM

From New Mexico Telegram:  One of the main points of controversy in the suspension of funding to behavioral health providers is the secrecy of the audit that prompted the findings.

Various media outlets, and the accused non-profits themselves, have sought to see the audit. So far, only ancillary portions of the audit have been released.

New Mexico In Depth and the Las Cruces Sun-News are two organizations that have filed Inspection of Public Records Act requests for the release of the audit. They were both rebuffed and now have filed a lawsuit asking for the release.

“The state continues to think it can operate above the law,” said Sun-News Editor Jim Lawitz in an article at NM In Depth on the suit. “They can’t. The public has a right to know what those findings are and how it impacts members of our community.”

[...]

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, a group dedicated to transparency and openness in state government, said in a statement Wednesday that they are reviewing legal options in the case.

Update: NFOIC member New Mexico Foundation for Open Government tweeted this on August 28: "NM FOG will be joining the legal fray to crack open the contents of the secret Behavioral Health audit. Stay tuned!"

More about the suits here and more about the audits here.

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August 16, 2013 8:01 AM

From New Mexico Foundation for Open Government:  Five recipients were selected by FOG Board members to receive the organization’s top award for open government. The award, which has been given since 2002, honors NM FOG co-founder and longtime Board member William S. Dixon. Dixon was an attorney and leading defender of the First Amendment and public rights under the New Mexico Open Meetings Act (OMA) and Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).

“The struggle against any culture of secrecy is a lifelong fight that many appreciate yet few actually wage,” NM FOG’s Dixon Awards Chairwoman, Kyla Thompson, said. “When you’re in it for the long haul, you’d better have a sharp intellect and a great sense of humor. Bill Dixon had both. We celebrate his memory and we celebrate those who continue the fight in new and innovative ways. Their perseverance benefits us all, and serves as beacon for democracy through good government in a rapidly changing world.”

The awardees will be honored by NM FOG at its annual awards ceremony on October 2, 2013, at the Embassy Suites, ABQ. This year’s speaker will be Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a syndicated columnist with the Washington Writers Group and columnist with the ABQ Journal.

Visit NMFOG for more details about the award and the banquet.

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New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

 

July 30, 2013 10:01 AM

From Alamogordo Daily News:   The state must publicly release an audit that flagged 15 New Mexico health organizations, three of which are in Las Cruces, for problems including overbilling and possible fraud, the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government says.

Two state agencies -- the Human Services Department (HSD) and Attorney General's Office (AG) -- have failed to release the full audit of the 15 behavioral health providers, which serve thousands of New Mexicans struggling with issues such as mental illness and drug addiction. [NMFOG] says the state is required by law to release the full audit along with information that deciphers a code used in the audit to identify the 15 organizations, including Las Cruces-based Southwest Counseling Center and Families and Youth Inc., as well as TeamBuilders, which operates primarily in the county.

[...]

"The AG and HSD are withholding specific details that would allow New Mexicans to see through the fog on why certain behavioral health services are being defunded," said FOG's executive director, Terry Schleder. "This is the opposite of transparency. New Mexico can't afford to operate in the dark this way."

Both state agencies have released parts of the audit to NMID, which requested the report, but they have withheld the majority of the document, including portions that would detail specific problems with each of the providers.

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New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds.

 

June 28, 2013 9:57 AM

From NMFOG:  The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government has a new executive director.

The Foundation's Board of Directors has hired Terry Schleder as the organization’s new Executive Director.

Terry has a keen understanding of the need for transparency in government having worked in it for more than 13 years. Schleder has a history of non-profit leadership in New Mexico. He has had success growing organizations in order to better serve their mission, which will help bring NMFOG to the next level.   

“Terry brings a wealth of organization leadership to the NMFOG and a strong understanding of our mission, said Terri Cole, President of the FOG Board.  Schleder presented organization plans to the FOG search committee for 1, 3 and 5 years out which were well thought out and showed a strategy of growth for the organization and broader understanding of the Sunshine Laws in our state.  “I’m excited to begin my career with NMFOG. Open government is at the heart of our democracy, and I can’t wait to get started.”  

Schleder has been a health advocate and policy consultant in NM since 2000, working as the field director for the NM Alliance for Retired Americans since 2009. He has worked in and with state government in the Department of Health since receiving his Masters’ in Public Health from the UNM School of Medicine.

Schleder will start with NM FOG on July 10.

 

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government is a member of NFOIC.--eds.

 

June 11, 2013 10:14 AM

From ABQ Journal:  Lincoln County has paid $125,000 in attorney fees to a weekly newspaper for violating the Inspection of Public Records Act in a lawsuit over documents relating to an investigation into Billy the Kid’s death and whether he was buried in Fort Sumner.

The settlement agreement represents only the payment to the De Baca County News, which sued along with retired psychiatrist and East Mountain resident Gale Cooper in 2007, according to an attorney for the newspaper.

Four other law firms previously involved in the case were paid another $70,000 combined and one claim is outstanding.

 

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