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/.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

October 14, 2013 9:20 AM

From Bennington Banner: RUTLAND (AP) -- The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court ruling giving the Rutland Herald newspaper access to records connected to an investigation into the Rutland city police officers who were disciplined for viewing and sending pornography at work.

The justices denied an appeal by the city, which raised concerns about the privacy rights of city employees.

Visit Bennington Banner for more.

======

 

October 11, 2013 7:26 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.

Michigan lawmakers approve new limits on public records, remove controversial 'journalist' definition

image of Access keyLANSING, MI -- The Michigan House on Wednesday approved a bill seeking to slow "ambulance chasing" attorneys from using public traffic accident records to find new clients. In doing so, lawmakers removed controversial language that would have defined who is or is not a journalist. The Michigan Press Association and other First Amendment advocates had raised red flags over House Bill 4770, which as introduced would have prevented immediate access to accident reports for most individuals but included exceptions for certain groups, including newspaper, radio or television employees.

======

Idaho judge rules against media groups in hospital case

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge presiding over an antitrust lawsuit between two major Idaho health care providers has declared that trial testimony and documents can remain hidden from public view, providing attorneys make a compelling case for secrecy. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Tuesday after a coalition of Idaho news organizations challenged a broad protective order approved by the judge for documents and testimony leading up to the trial.

======

Lawsuit over mug-shot web sites captures a public records dilemma, Ohio

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Debra Lashaway is realizing that the Internet never forgets. Years after she was exonerated of a theft charge, she remains online through a lasting image of her arrest: a mug shot.

======

Times-News co-sponsors Idaho open government workshop

Public documents are the backbone to government transparency, but sometimes wading through what is or isn’t open can be confusing. To help the public navigate Idaho’s public records law, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Idahoans for Openness in Government are holding a workshop for those who want to learn more about access to public records and meetings.

======

Texas appeals court hears Bexar open records case

AUSTIN — An appellate court heard clashing arguments Wednesday over Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson's long-running refusal to disclose official communications in his private email accounts. The Precinct 4 commissioner, who in 2012 was ordered by a trial court in Austin to release transportation policy-related emails sought by the San Antonio Express-News, insisted anew that the communications were not subject to the Texas Public Information Act. State and newspaper lawyers countered that the messages must be shared because they were official business.

======

Editorial: N.M. Governor must be more open about travel

It's a problem that dates back to at least the Richardson administration, and remains unresolved to this day: the governor being less than transparent with their daily schedule and travel plans. The Associated Press reported last week that in response to its request for travel records, information provided by the Susana Martinez administration for political trips not related to state business was incomplete and inconsistent with previous statements.

======

Sarasota development review panel to meet in sunshine

SARASOTA - A committee charged with helping to shape Sarasota developments will no longer hold private meetings before signing off on projects in public, City Attorney Bob Fournier said this week. Fournier has advised members of the Development Review Committee to end that practice, he said, and make all meetings public, after open government advocates complained last month that the DRC appeared to be violating Florida's Sunshine Law.

======

Wis. Senate sends AG ‘sunshine’ legislation to governor

MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) — The Wisconsin Senate has passed legislation aimed at bringing transparency to the state’s hiring of private sector attorneys on a contingency fee basis. On Tuesday, senators concurred 23-10 and sent the legislation, the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracting Act, or Assembly Bill 27, to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.

======

Vermont announces 'open data' pilot project

As Vermont’s state government takes its first baby step into the giant world of open data, the state’s civic hackers are lining up to help. Harry Bell of Vermont’s Department of Information and Innovation announced Tuesday that the state would be stepping out of its website shell and into the “open data” movement — a growing international trend toward making government data more available to the public.

======

Hendersonville (Tennessee) public records ordinance clears hurdle

Citizens may soon be able to make their own copies of public records at Hendersonville City Hall, but would still have to pay a labor charge for retrieving and redacting those records if the process takes more than an hour. Hendersonville leaders passed an ordinance late Tuesday outlining how public records will be handled. The measure passed 9 to 3, but will require another vote before it takes effect.

======

Asheville, Buncombe (NC) crime databases offer access to public records

Two relatively new online databases, from the Asheville Police Department and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, offer extensive access to crime reports. Both use a program called Police to Citizen (or P2C) that allows users to look up information on crimes in their neighborhoods and search for alleged and convicted offenders by name. Buncombe’s P2C has been online for a little more than a year and was recently enhanced to include more thorough information, according to Kim Pruett, Buncombe County’s director of information technology. Asheville’s P2C, implemented in collaboration between Asheville and Buncombe IT staff, was launched in August.

======

Who’s got that public record you want? Louisiana government begins to comply with new law

State Rep. Chris Broadwater typed away on a Dell laptop last week at his legislative office in downtown Hammond. Broadwater was checking to see which government agencies had complied with a measure, House Concurrent Resolution 129, that the state Legislature approved unanimously in June. Sponsored by Broadwater, it requires government agencies to make it easy for citizens to find out online how they can file public records requests, by identifying who on the website is the custodian of those records.

======

Spokane (Washington) Public Schools to pay $130,000 in public records dispute

Spokane Public Schools will pay a Spokane woman with a history of needling officials $130,000 after failing to comply with a 2009 public records request. Laurie Rogers is a private tutor, frequent critic and describes herself as an advocate for transparent government. She had filed a request for all “promotional materials on the 2006 and 2009 bonds and levies.”

======

Mich. bills to limit access to juvenile records, accident reports move forward

LANSING — Two bills that would make it more difficult or impossible for the public to access the criminal records of juveniles and accident records from police passed overwhelmingly in the Legislature on Wednesday. The first bill, passed unanimously in the Senate, would shut out the public from access to the criminal records of juveniles available on a Michigan State Police-run online data base. The records could be released to other law enforcement agencies and employers who do criminal background checks on potential employees.

======

Vermont gun group responds to Burlington rejection with second FOIA

Undeterred by the City of Burlington’s refusal to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request, the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs has filed a second FOIA request, the group reported yesterday on its website. The original request was for documents and correspondence related to the city’s undermining of state preemption laws for firearms. That effort was reported in this column on September 21, and produced a response from the city three days later.

======

Former Polk County deputy suing sheriff over public records

LAKELAND | A former Polk County sheriff's deputy who was fired earlier this year is suing Polk Sheriff Grady Judd for not providing public records, according to court filings. Shawnee McCawley requested copies of emails and text messages from eight Sheriff's Office employees in an Aug. 9 letter sent by certified mail, according to the lawsuit.

======

October 8, 2013 8:18 AM

From VtDigger.org: Vermont’s public records law is rife with exemptions, but last spring the Legislature lifted one that had kept locks on all records relating to criminal investigations.

A committee of lawmakers, given the task of inventorying all 245 exemptions during a three-year period, revisited that change Friday, three months after it took effect.

Visit VtDigger.org for more.

======

 

July 24, 2013 11:52 AM

From Burlington Free Press:  Mike Donoghue, a reporter with the Burlington Free Press, has won a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“The Society’s Sunshine Award recognizes those making important contributions in the area of open government,” a news release said. “This award was the most competitive of our national honor awards.”

The awards are in an open circulation category.

Donoghue’s award was for persistent coverage of a state police commander who was accused and then found guilty of defrauding taxpayers out of about $213,000 by filing false time sheets for several years. The commander was sentenced to two years in prison. Donoghue relied on freedom of information requests to provide the information to the public.

======

May 9, 2013 11:42 AM

From Valley News: Montpelier — A bill that would require police to release records of their investigations unanimously passed a House committee and now heads to the full House, perhaps as soon as next week.

Six weeks after the Vermont Senate approved the bill, proposed by Gov. Peter Shumlin, the initiative to make police investigations more transparent emerged from the House Judiciary Committee in a slightly amended form. The committee’s approval means the bill has a chance of reaching Shumlin’s desk by the end of the session, though its fate in the House is uncertain.

 

April 24, 2013 1:52 PM

From burlingtonfreepress.com:

MONTPELIER — The House takes up a short bill Tuesday morning that postpones decisions about public records exemptions until 2014 to allow for the Legislature’s legal staff to comb the statutes one last time and write a bill that would consolidate the exemptions — 239 at last count — in a single place in the law books.

“It should make it easier and more functional for everybody,” said Rep. Ron Hubert, R-Milton. He will make the case for the bill Tuesday.

The House Government Operations Committee had been working on a bill that would have made recommendations about keeping, clarifying or deleting exemptions, but decided instead to take more time, engage more legislators and produce a comprehensive bill rather than a piecemeal measure.

 

April 12, 2013 9:32 AM

Access Freedom of InformationA few state FOIA and local open government news items selected from many of interest that we might or might not have drawn attention to earlier in the week. While you're at it, be sure to check out State FOIA Friday Archives.

 

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

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

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

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

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

Visit The Huffington Post for the rest.

Hospitals criticize Vermont open meetings bill

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

Visit Boston.com for the rest.

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

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

Visit The Seattle Times for the rest.

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

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

Visit SitNews.us for the rest.

Government’s transparency debated at FOI symposium

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

Visit JournalInquirer.com for the rest.

Editorial: Open government: See it can be done

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

Visit Clayton News Daily for the rest.

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

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

Visit Sante Fe Reporter for the rest.

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

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

Visit Honolulu Civil Beat for the rest.

January 23, 2013 1:35 PM

From Seven Days:

Vermont has some of the weakest public-records laws in the nation, and ever-louder calls for more transparency from government watchdogs and local news outlets have barely moved the needle.
 
Almost four decades after Vermont enshrined the public’s “right to know,” the state’s public-records law remains riddled with exemptions — 239 in all — that put everything from tax returns to Vermont Life magazine’s subscriber list off limits to the public.
 
But things may be changing — at least when it comes to law-enforcement records.

 

January 9, 2013 11:47 AM

From VTDIGGER.org:

The House and Senate chairs of the Government Operations committees want more transparency in state government.

Both longtime House Chair Donna Sweaney, D- Windsor, and Senate Chair Jeanette White, D-Putney, gave the openness of the Shumlin administration a fair rating, but said they would like to continue clarifying the law around open meetings and public records.

“Transparency is a goal that they’re working toward, and I think he [Shumlin] has been working hard towards that goal,” said Sweaney.

For another viewpoint, see this editorial from Voice of the Free Press: Sustain push for transparency.

November 14, 2012 9:22 AM

From VTDigger.org:

A lawsuit filed by a school supervisory union district against a student parent and vocal policy critic was dismissed by Rutland superior court on Tuesday. The district sued Marcel Cyr, a parent, for placing a public records request.
 
The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont hailed the dismissal as a victory for government transparency. Dan Barrett, an attorney for the ACLU, says the decision makes it clear that only a citizen can sue a public agency over a records request, not the other way around.

Syndicate content