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 18, 2013 11:18 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.

Ruling gives Washington governor's office 'Nixon-style' executive shield

image of Access keyIf Gov. Jay Inslee wants to withhold documents from the public about how he came to policy decisions — on anything from water quality regulations, to religious hospital mergers, to union negotiations — he now has the right to do that, as do all future Washington state governors. The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that the governor can claim “executive privilege” and refuse to make documents public indefinitely.

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Connecticut task force divided on privacy concerns

HARTFORD -- The news media need access to as much information as possible -- even gruesome photos -- about Connecticut homicides, in order to better inform the public, a task force looking into victim privacy was told Wednesday. But an attorney for many Newtown families whose loved ones were killed last Dec. 14 said that images of homicide victims should be exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act.

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Editorial: 911 transcripts are closed records in S.D.

I sat down with Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom yesterday to talk about last week's police pursuit in city streets that ended in a car wreck and death of a woman. ... The 911 records of the call might shed light on whether the reporting party identified the Impala's drivers as Native American. Regrettably — and predictably — 911 calls records in South Dakota are considered confidential. It puts us squarely in the minority of states.

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Officials jack up charges to keep public records from being released

A common refrain from government officials who defend the high cost of public records is that it’s just too time-consuming to drop what they’re doing to dig through file cabinets or print out documents and make copies.What do you think? While it’s not unreasonable for governments to recoup some of these costs, open-ended charging policies can sometimes result in abuse, particularly if a records request might reveal potentially embarrassing information should it be made public.

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RI AG sues Woonsocket for public record access violations

The RI Attorney General's office has filed a complaint in Rhode Island Superior Court citing Woonsocket for "two knowing and willful" violations of the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Each violation carries a maximum $2,000 penalty, according to a release sent this morning from the AG's office.

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Indiana AG: Public should have access to death certificates

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has asked the Indiana Supreme Court to hear the appeal of a judge’s ruling that cause of death information is not public record. “In short, our office advocates that local death certificates are a public record that the public should be able to obtain,” said Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the attorney general.

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Public records key to Ohio high school newspaper's scoop in story about on-campus sexual assault

OHIO — When two high school students walked into their local police station and asked to see a public record, they were given what one of them called “the runaround.” But they stuck it through 'til the end, and that end was a scoop that later ended up on TV and radio stations across Cleveland. One day before that visit, Shaker Heights High School had notified students of an assault inside its Shaker Heights, Ohio, campus. The police report showed the incident was more serious though, something school administrators said they did not know.

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Michigan house bills seek lower FOIA costs

Since 1976 when Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was introduced, several elements of the law have been amended to improve transparency of government actions. Several bills proposed in the House seek to lower costs associated with FOIA requests and establish a method of appealing request denials without going to court. State Rep. Mike Shirkey’s proposal, House Bill 4001, seeks to cap the copy charge imposed for requested documents at 10 cents per copy and require that a government entity not charge a fee for a FOIA requestor making copies with their own equipment during an on-site records inspection authorized by this law.

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Greenville (Mich.) settles FOIA lawsuit with Eureka

GREENVILLE — After about a year of costly legal wrangling, Greenville has finally accepted a settlement agreement with Eureka Township regarding a fee the township attempted to levy against the city for a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The Eureka Township Board went into closed session to discuss the proposed settlement at their September meeting. The document presented to Greenville City Council members at Tuesday’s meeting was the settlement the township and its legal advisers came up with.

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August 14, 2013 3:20 PM

From Daily Journal:  The state online repository of court files is a public record, the Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled, overturning a lower-court judgment that put the state in the awkward position of arguing that its own online registry was insufficiently reliable to establish that a conviction had taken place.

The ruling came in a minor Multnomah County misdemeanor case in which a circuit court judge refused to accept a defendant's use of the Oregon Judicial Information Network as a public record to attack the credibility of a government witness.

"We disagree with the state's argument that an OJIN register is not sufficiently reliable to 'establish' the existence of a conviction," Appeals Court Judge Timothy Sercombe wrote in the ruling released last week.

Get the rest here.

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August 9, 2013 8:38 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.

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Open-government groups fault Raimondo for withholding hedge-fund records from The Providence Journal

In a letter released Thursday, four open-government groups voiced concerns to Rhode Island Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo for withholding hedge-fund records from The Providence Journal. The groups — Common Cause Rhode Island, the state’s Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Rhode Island Press Association and the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island — were reacting to a Journal story Sunday about the state’s $1-billion investment in hedge funds. The story discussed the secrecy surrounding hedge funds, and the treasurer’s decision to release heavily censored copies of reports detailing hedge-fund operations and, in some cases, fees.

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City of Springfield (Ill.) admits wrongdoing in FOIA case

The city of Springfield has conceded that the city violated the state Freedom of Information Act by shredding a police internal affairs file concerning deputy chief Cliff Buscher, who was suspended and demoted in 2008 for firing his duty weapon while drunk during a fishing trip to Missouri. The city in court papers filed today has acknowledged breaking the law by destroying Buscher’s file and says that Calvin Christian III, who had requested Buscher’s file and dozens of other internal affairs files that were destroyed, is entitled to $5,000 for the illegal destruction of the Buscher file.

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Opinion: Don’t delay on records requests

On July 30, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on newly released emails between Scott Walker’s campaign staff and county aides in 2010, back when the future governor was Milwaukee county executive. One email was from Cindy Archer, then a top county aide, to Walker and his campaign staff, advising that “we may be responding too quickly” to open records requests regarding a county parking structure collapse that killed a 15-year-old boy. The requests were from the state Democratic Party and the campaign of Walker’s GOP primary opponent, which presumably wanted to use the tragedy to impugn Walker. That’s a pretty low motivation — Walker, in a draft statement, aptly called it “disgusting” — but the state’s Open Records Law does not allow a requester’s motives to be taken into account.

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Opinion: Keep lines of communication open

Many local officials say they place high value on openness and transparency, but when it comes to keeping track of the actions of their police officers and firefighters, there are those that favor less transparency. That needs to change. Amendments are needed to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or Illinois Open Meetings Act (IOMA) mandating police and fire radio networks be open with a few exceptions.

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International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) files lawsuit against the Port of Portland

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) filed a lawsuit against the Port of Portland, claiming the port violated the Oregon Public Records Act by charging the union $200,000 for public records searches. ILWU submitted public records requests in June, September and December 2012. It said it was charged "arbitrary and excessive" fees to find the records and told further fees would be assessed for lawyers to review and segregate the records before release, the union said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Florida vendors fret over new public records requirements for state contracts

A new law requiring contractors doing business for the state to provide more public records has some vendors worried about added costs and legal implications, a lawyer representing several clients with state contracts said. Karen Walker, an attorney with the Holland & Knight firm, said some vendors are concerned about a provision in HB 1309 that requires vendors in state contracts who are acting on behalf of the state to maintain public records related to the contract and to provide them on a technology platform compatible with the agency involved in the contract.

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June 14, 2013 12:30 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.

 

Private prison firm CCA defends record on transparency in Vt.

MONTPELIER, Vermont — The private company that runs three out-of-state prisons where Vermont inmates are housed is defending its record on transparency. Corrections Corporation of America is responding to a lawsuit filed in Vermont over the issue by saying it complies fully with all applicable state open-records laws.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

UO public records office increases volume, efficiency

A year-end report from University of Oregon's Office of Public Records indicates a larger volume than ever of requests for information about various UO operations but a steadily decreasing amount of time required to fulfill the requests. The UO received 292 public records requests through the first 11 months (through May) of the current fiscal year – four more than in the entire 2012 fiscal year and 92 more than in the 2011 fiscal year. Over that same three-year period, the average amount of time it has taken to fulfill requests has decreased by about five days.

Visit University of Oregon for the rest.

Colorado city wants to ban people taking pictures of public records

Durango, Colo., officials are trying to close what they see as a public-records loophole that is costing them money. The Durango Herald reports that the city is proposing an ordinance that would ban people from photographing public records they request. It seems people are using their cellphones and tablet computers to get around photocopying fees by taking pictures of the documents.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

Governor Cuomo releases provisional open data guidelines to increase transparency among state agencies

Albany, NY - June 13, 2013 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today released provisional open data guidelines for state agencies and public authorities to participate in Open.ny.gov, marking another milestone for the State’s data transparency website. With this action, New York is the first state in the nation to publish its provisional open data guidelines and seek public comment on GitHub, an open source platform that allows for open collaboration and sharing. Public comment is open until September 1, 2013.

Visit LongIsland.com for the rest.

City of El Paso launches webpage to file open records requests electronically

EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso has launched a webpage for open records requests. The Cithy's Communications and Public Affairs Office is responsible for all Open Records Requests. All requests must be made in writing. To submit an Open Records Request through the electronic system, please click on the “Submit Open Records Request” tab on the link at bottom of this article.

Visit KVIA for the rest.

Law signed by governor regarding private university police records

A bill allowing public access to information maintained by campus police affiliated with private and non-profit institutions of higher education in North Carolina became law this week. House Bill 142 was ratified on June 5 and signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Pat McCrory. The new law requires campus police departments at private universities to comply with more public records requests, making arrest records and other investigative records public information. It requires the same kind of access also mandated for municipal, county and state law enforcement.

Visit Times-News for the rest.

California legislature kills $10 fee for search of public court records

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A trailer bill that would have severely limited press and public access to court documents has died in the California Legislature, after widespread editorial condemnation from the state's newspapers. The defeated proposal was put forward by the Administrative Office of the Courts and would have resulted in a charge of $10 per file to look at court records.

Visit Courthouse News Service for the rest.

March 14, 2013 10:13 AM

Editorial from Lebanon Express:

This week is Sunshine Week, where journalists everywhere discuss the importance of open government and access to information.

In the last few months, the Lebanon Express and its sister paper, the Albany Democrat-Herald, have requested numerous documents and bits of information to shed light on why a police chief of six months — and a 17-year veteran of the force — left the department and was offered a severance package.

Although the city was not as forthcoming as we’d have liked, it should be noted that the city has not charged the papers for any of the information it released.



March 11, 2013 11:56 AM

From Corvallis Gazette Times:

Sunday marks the start of Sunshine Week, the national initiative that’s meant to call attention to the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Typically, this is a time when I blather on about how government works best when it functions in the sunshine and how Oregon’s laws on public records and open meetings, once among the best in the nation, have been whittled down over the years until they’re shadows of their former selves.

[...]

But the recent efforts of the Democrat-Herald and the Lebanon Express to try to get more information about the unexpected departure of the chief of the Lebanon Police Department offer a vivid example of how these issues can play out in the real world.



February 7, 2013 11:36 AM

From San Francisco Chronicle:

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Want to find out if a particular motel has bedbugs? ... Who won the lottery? ... How much a retired public employee is earning from a pension?

Some in the Oregon Legislature want to keep that information confidential, and several bills would cut off public access to those records.



February 4, 2013 11:34 AM

From OregonLive.com:

A Coos County judge, in a harsh rebuke to the local port district, ruled that the port "abused its discretion" by attempting to discourage the Sierra Club from obtaining public records involving a proposed coal export terminal.

Circuit Judge Paula Bechtold ordered the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay to turn over the documents without charge, and awarded the environmental group attorney's fees in the case.

November 14, 2012 9:34 AM

From OregonLive.com:

Oregon legislators are required to keep their email messages for a year, according to their own rules and state law. But confusion about a computer backup system suggests an unknowable number of public records has been lost. 
 
The issue wasn't on anybody's radar until The Oregonian requested copies of email related to a trip seven Republican lawmakers made to Palm Springs in January. The all-male group visited a topless club while they were there and, a few months later, House GOP leader, Rep. Kevin Cameron, stepped down because of fear that the public would find out. 

August 23, 2012 1:21 PM

From OregonLive.com:

SALEM -- In her first major public records decision, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has denied The Oregonian's request for the names and personnel records of the Department of Revenue workers whose errors led to the biggest tax fraud in state history. 
 
Revenue demoted one employee last month and took what it described as "formal disciplinary action" against three others following an internal investigation into how a Salem woman was able to claim $3.5 million in income and get a bogus $2.1 million refund from the state on a Visa debit card.
 
[...]
 
The Oregonian filed an appeal on Aug. 1 to the attorney general, arguing that state law provides for the release of personnel records when there's a compelling public interest. The newspaper also argued that the agency's internal audit report did not fully explain how the fraud occurred, whether public officials were held accountable for their errors or what the agency has done to make sure it does not happen again.

June 27, 2012 1:58 PM

From Statesman Journal:

 

Ellen Rosenblum will seek changes in Oregon’s 40-year-old public records law to make government responses to citizen requests “earlier, cheaper and better.”
 
But Rosenblum, during a meeting Tuesday with the Statesman Journal editorial board, said she may take a less sweeping approach than her soon-to-be predecessor as attorney general.
February 21, 2012 4:26 PM

From the Mail Tribune:

SALEM — A bill that would close off the records of those who hold concealed handgun licenses in Oregon easily passed the House, but its future in the Senate is, again, questionable.

It's the fourth time the House has passed such a bill, but each time the bill died in the Senate in the 2009 and 2011 sessions.

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