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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July 7, 2014 5:49 AM

How citizens access public information may change in Simpsonville. City officials are drafting a Freedom of Information policy to create a standardized process for handling FOI requests, but some provisions in the draft policy’s current form have raised concerns by specialists in public information access.

The resolution drafted by the city attorney was brought up in both City Council meetings in May. At the request of David Dyrhaug, interim city administrator, the issue was tabled for further evaluation. “I hadn’t had a chance to go through it in great depth yet,” he said. “Now I have and I have quasi-concerns with it.”

The issue was raised because the city has no policy in place on who disseminates public information. The nearby cities of Fountain Inn and Greenville don’t have specific policies; both use the state law regarding requests for public information. Mauldin has a specific public information policy to determine how FOI requests are handled. Continue>>>
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August 16, 2013 8:34 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.

Indy district seeks records on takeover of schools

Indianapolis Public Schools leaders filed a public records request Thursday seeking information on the 2011 takeover of four schools amid questions about the integrity of the state's A-F school grading formula. IPS Board of Commissioners President Diane Arnold called for a review of the decisions that led the state to give control of the schools to charter operators after they were consistently found to be "failing." ... The grading system has been under fire since The Associated Press published emails last month showing former schools chief Tony Bennett oversaw changes to the formula to ensure a top Republican donor's school received an 'A'. Bennett subsequently resigned as Florida's education commissioner.

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Wyoming schools superintendent questions state's response time in public records request

The first few thousand state email correspondences requested last month by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill were released from Gov. Matt Mead’s office earlier this week. Hill and her attorney argue the response from the state -- which estimated fulfilling Hill's public records request would take months and require combing through some 80,000 documents -- has been sluggish.

Also see: Cindy Hill narrows public records request

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Editorial: FOIA records price reflects poorly on Hilton Head Island

Little seems reasonable about Hilton Head Island’s bill of up to $13,000 to produce public documents. That’s the cost estimate put on a documents request from island businessman Skip Hoagland, who is suing the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce. The documents sought are related to the accommodations tax money the town gives the chamber. Town officials say they’re trying to cover the cost of fulfilling the request, which they say will require multiple staffers to sift through thousands of documents in several databases and archives.

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Slashing the cost of FOIA requests in Michigan

State lawmakers could be taking up a bill that would make getting information easier from public entities. House Bill 4001 limits the costs a public body can charge when someone files a request for public records under the Freedom of Information Act. “Costs associated with FOIA had grown to the point they had become a barrier to information the public was otherwise supposed to ordinarily have,” said the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, in a statement. “If you can’t afford to get it, you obviously can’t read it..."

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Court sides mostly with University of Illinois Springfield in FOIA dispute

A state appellate court has upheld the majority of a circuit court ruling that limits the disclosure of documents relating to the resignations of former University of Illinois Springfield coaches and a $200,000 settlement with a student-athlete in 2009. The 4th District Appellate Court found that all but a few documents withheld by UIS, including witness statements about an incident during a spring 2009 softball trip to Florida, were exempt from disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. ... Last fall, Jersey County Circuit Judge Eric Pistorius, who was appointed to hear the case in Sangamon County, ordered the release of 12 pages of documents, while ruling that other documents he had reviewed were protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) or were used in a deliberative process and therefore exempt from FOIA disclosure.

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Judge orders WVU Urgent Care to comply with FOIA request

MORGANTOWN – A Monongalia County judge has ruled that West Virginia University Medical Corporation is a public body and must respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. Monongalia Circuit Court Judge Phillip D. Gaujot made his ruling Aug. 6 in Monongalia County General Hospital’s lawsuit against WVU Medical Corporation, doing business as University Health Associates. A year ago, Mon General Hospital submitted a FOIA request to WVUMC, seeking documents related to WVUMC’s relocation of its urgent care center to Suncrest Towne Centre. ... WVUMC is a nonprofit that supports the clinical practice of physicians employed by the WVU School of Medicine. It denied Mon General’s FOIA request on Aug. 24.

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Exploring official corruption, records in New Mexico

New Mexico has had its share of government corruption scandals in recent years. Former state Treasurers Michael Montoya and Robert Vigil and former state Senate Democratic leader Manny Aragon are among those who have been convicted and sent to prison. The scandals have helped contribute to a perception by New Mexicans that government here is among the most corrupt in the nation. The 2013 Garrity Perception Survey of New Mexicans found that state officials are among the least trusted people, even less trusted than lawyers and journalists. A new study suggests that the effective use of the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act may also be contributing to the public perception of a high level of government corruption in New Mexico.

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NY Safe Act requires Onondaga County to release many pistol permit holders' names, state official says

The same law that lets pistol permit holders keep their names private might also require Onondaga County to make public the names of up to 40,000 permit holders. Robert Freeman, the state's top open government official, said today a provision of the NY Safe Act adopted in January would require the county to release the names of permit holders who have not filed forms asking for privacy. Sheriff Kevin Walsh said the county has 40,000 to 50,000 pistol permit holders. About 10,000 of those have filed papers asking that their names not be made public, he said.

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March 26, 2013 3:28 PM

Opinion from Rock Hill Herald Online:

S.C. House members apparently don’t mind sunshine unless it shines directly on them.

A House bill that would have made it faster and cheaper for South Carolinians to get copies of public documents was making good progress earlier this month. But that was before the introduction of an amendment that would have ended the exemption for legislators that allows them to withhold memos, working papers and correspondence with constituents from the public record.

Most of the debate has centered on the high cost of storing legislators’ records. S.C. Department of Archives and History director Eric Emerson, whose agency stores many public records, said his department could incur added costs of almost $1 million to store the legislators’ papers.

But some proponents questioned the estimate, saying it is an excuse by legislators to avoid having to maintain their records and make them public when asked. Gov. Nikki Haley also supports eliminating the lawmakers’ exemption.

Nonetheless, largely because of the amendment ending the exemption, House members voted 72-34 last week to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee.

 

 

February 28, 2013 11:01 AM

From The State:

A state House bill aimed at improving access to public records advanced Tuesday but not without disagreement over whether legislators should be exempted from the law.
 
State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, proposed eliminating an exemption to the state’s Freedom of Information Act that allows lawmakers to withhold memos, working papers and correspondence from requests for public records.
 
In a 12-10 vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved eliminating the exemption as part of a bill designed to protect the public from long waits and excessive fees when requesting records. ...

 

January 14, 2013 11:41 AM

From Aiken Standard:

HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Legislators from Beaufort County are right to support an effort to improve the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
 
[...]
 
The bill would:
  • Force government officials to respond more quickly to requests for public documents made by the public.
  • Prohibit government officials from charging for staff time spent complying with records requests, as well as for documents available digitally. It would also prohibit governments from charging more than prevailing commercial rates for copying records. These are shameful tactics used to avoid the release of public information, and it must be stopped.
  • Increase fines for violating the FOIA — up to $1,500 for a third violation — and allow magistrates to hold individuals in government in civil contempt for failing to comply with FOIA requests.

 

November 2, 2012 10:52 AM

image of AccessA 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:

Grant could help with West Virginia's records storage problem

PARKERSBURG (Nov 2, 2012) - A grant application for $17,000 will be submitted to the West Virginia Records Management and Preservation Board of the West Virginia Archives and History Division seeking help with records storage issues. ... The RMPB was created by the West Virginia Legislature in 2000 to develop a system of records management and preservation for county governments. Funding for the grants program comes from filing fees collected by county clerks and deposited in the special Public Records and Preservation Account.

Visit NewsandSentinel.com for the rest.

IN gubernatorial candidates weigh in on making government more accountable

(Nov 2, 2012) - In the race to become Indiana's next Governor, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Mike Pence say they'd like to make Indiana government more open and accountable. But they're offering few ideas on how they'd do it. ... The Indiana Coalition For Open Government posted those answers from the candidates online this week.

Visit TristateHomepage.com for the rest.

Candidates for N.C. governor support prying open some government records

(Nov 2, 2012) - The main candidates for governor say they favor taking some steps to make state government more transparent, but both avoid sweeping promises about opening up many more records than are already public. In recent interviews, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory were generally in agreement when asked about disclosing more state employee personnel records, improving campaign finance reporting, making public ethics complaints and releasing their daily calendars. Both expressed concern about protecting employees’ and office-holders’ privacy while acknowledging the need to balance the public’s interest in monitoring state government.

Visit Winston-Salem Journal for the rest.

Greenwood (S.C.) school district refuses FOI request

(Nov 2, 2012) - GREENWOOD — Greenwood School District 50 is refusing to turn over information about the resignation of a high school volleyball coach to a newspaper. The Index-Journal of Greenwood filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the personnel file and emails concerning the employment of Emerald volleyball coach Gina Sargent.

Visit GreenvilleOnline.com for the rest.

Sarasota advisory boards dogged by Florida's costly Sunshine Law missteps

(Nov 1, 2012) - Government-in-the-Sunshine Law and public record missteps have cost Sarasota about $100,000 in legal fees since this spring and local attorney Andrea Mogensen's firm has garnered the majority of the money. The firm doggedly monitors local government for missteps and last week filed a suit claiming Sarasota's advisory boards have a widespread problem: Members conducting public business through private email accounts, text messages and social media.

Visit Herald-Tribune for the rest.

Have you ever used Utah's GRAMA? I’d like to share your story

(Nov 1, 2012) - People usually think of open government laws such as Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) , as tools for journalists. ... While journalists use the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), GRAMA and the open meetings act to hold elected officials and government agencies accountable, the laws were meant for the general public. Anyone can use those laws to see how government works, and to call bureaucrats and elected officials out when it doesn’t.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

October 15, 2012 11:18 AM

From The Republic:

SUMTER, S.C. — A Sumter newspaper is appealing a judge's ruling that autopsy reports in South Carolina are not public records.

A lawyer for The Item said the judge was wrong to rule that autopsy reports are medical records that are required to be kept private under state law.

Autopsies are like death certificates and "cannot be considered 'medical records in the normal sense' in that they are not prepared in connection with a course of treatment of an injury or an illness," attorney Jay Bender wrote in his appeal for the newspaper (http://bit.ly/UXX9lT).

September 11, 2012 12:58 PM

From Independent Mail:

ANDERSON — Rick Freemantle's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against Anderson County has been delayed and will be assigned to a new judge.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled June 27 that the Upstate resident and former Anderson County Council candidate has legal standing under the state's Freedom of Information Act to proceed with his lawsuit against the county and its former administrator, Joey Preston.

August 8, 2012 2:08 PM

From The State:

Forty-four states require legislators to disclose who they work for. Many also require some disclosure about how much those legislators are paid by their employers.

Not South Carolina.

Palmetto State politicians only must disclose money earned from government agencies and from contracts between their employers and government agencies. There is no requirement to disclose the private companies that legislators work for, some of which may stand to gain financially by laws passed by the General Assembly.

June 14, 2012 12:47 PM

From Southern Political Report:

June 14, 2012 — COLUMBIA -- The S.C. Court of Appeals overturned a circuit court decision Wednesday, siding with a citizen who challenged the Saluda County Council's adherence to the Freedom of Information Act. 

Dennis Lambries had sued the Saluda County Council, charging that its practice of amending its agenda during regularly scheduled meetings violated the FOIA. But the circuit court ruled against him and said public bodies weren't required to have an agenda for regularly scheduled meetings, and noted that the council made amendments to the agenda in open public sessions.

June 8, 2012 1:25 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:

Des Moines school district says Sebring emails are public files

A Polk County district judge next week will listen to arguments regarding the release of additional personal emails sent and received on the Des Moines school district’s public account by former superintendent Nancy Sebring.

The district on Thursday filed a response to Sebring’s request for an injunction that, if approved, would stop the release of other of her personal emails sent and received on the district account.

Visit Des Moines Register for the rest.

Va. Supreme Court rules Fairfax School Board e-mails did not break state law

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that members of the Fairfax County School Board did not break state law when they exchanged hundreds of e-mails prior to a controversial 2010 vote to close Clifton Elementary School.

The opinion, written by Senior Justice Lawrence L. Koontz, upheld a lower court’s ruling and affirmed a long-standing interpretation of how elected officials may and may not use e-mail to discuss public business.

Visit The Washington Post for the rest.

Ninefold Supports Government & Developer Competition

Ninefold, Australia's Cloud, has congratulated all winners and participants of the largest GovHack 2012 competition yet in Australia, particularly the 10 of 22 winners using Ninefold virtual machines.

Ninefold provided virtual machines and on-site mentoring both in Sydney and Canberra plus sponsorship funding towards the cash prizes. Contestants were supported by GovHack organisers with a range of tools and hosting options, including virtual machines from Ninefold, which will keep the VMs active for six months to allow participants to keep working on their projects.

Visit San Francisco Chronicle for the rest.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs into law rules for public review of voted ballots

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation Thursday that sets rules for public review of voted ballots — a bill he called “imperfect but necessary” to prevent chaos in November. But critics say it is a blow to open government.

[...]

Opponents argue that the bill creates an exception which defines a privileged class of people who may inspect public documents at a time when others in the public or media may not. 

Visit The Denver Post for the rest.

Public records debate continues after court rejects lawsuit

A former Elon University student, now a television reporter in Texas, is considering options after a failed appeal of a lawsuit against the school and N.C. Attorney Gen. Roy Cooper.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled this week campus police departments at private schools such as Elon do not have to make records available to the public. The ruling supported a trial court’s previous decision that campus police are exempt from public records law. The decision was unanimous.

Visit Burlington Times News for the rest.

South Carolina Bill that would have strengthened open-records law nixed in the Senate

COLUMBIA — A bill that would have strengthened the state’s Freedom of Information law died in the state Senate after a Democrat placed a legislative block on the measure.

Among many changes, the bill would have reduced costs public bodies can charge in response to open-records requests, forced bodies to make certain records available for immediate inspection and put an end to more than month-long waits for public information.

Visit The Post and Courier for the rest.

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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