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 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 5, 2013 9:07 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.

N.D. government should be open

North Dakota’s open meeting law does not appear to be working. In the past year, there have been violations at nearly every level of government. And astonishingly, there have been repeat offenders. All elected officials do not take the public’s right to know seriously. Even after being chided by the North Dakota attorney general. Chided — because there are no teeth in the law. No punishment or consequences beyond sitting through a workshop or class on open meetings and open records.

======

California Senate approves public records amendment

The state Senate approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday that would guarantee the public's right to inspect local government public records while shifting the cost away from the state budget. The proposed amendment would end a requirement that the state reimburse local governments for their costs of complying with the California Public Records Act. The amendment, SCA3, passed on a 37-0 vote and goes to the Assembly. If it receives the required two-thirds majority support in that house, as expected, the amendment would go before voters in June 2014.

======

Town in Washington state must pay $538,555 in public records suit over e-mail metadata

A town in Washington state must pay more than half a million dollars to resolve a seven-year lawsuit that brought electronic metadata within the scope of the state public records law, a trial court ruled last week. The City of Shoreline will have to reimburse $438,555 to cover the plaintiffs' costs as Washington agencies are required to cover reasonable attorneys fees for their opponents after losing open records lawsuits. Shoreline also agreed last year to pay a $100,000 statutory penalty after the court found that the city violated the state public records act.

======

Arkansas Secretary of State hit with FOIA lawsuit

Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin could soon be defending himself in front of a judge after liberal blogger and lawyer Matt Campbell filed suit against the Republican [July 1] for failure to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request. The suit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, seeks to force Martin's office to turn over documents Campbell, managing editor of the Blue Hog Report, had asked for in a June 10 FOIA request. The request was for files attached to e-mails Campbell had received from an earlier FOIA request on June 2.

======

Illinois Appellate Court tells city: Cough up public records

For two years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been fighting to keep the public from seeing a public document on the use of taxpayer resources. ... the issue goes well beyond a single obscure—and, by this time, potentially outdated—document from 2010. On Friday the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the city was required to disclose the report—and in doing so, the court appears to have strengthened the state's Freedom of Information Act in favor of openness for citizens and the press.

======

Don't exempt UW-Madison from records law

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has requested that the state Legislature grant it an exemption from Wisconsin's Open Records Law. The proposed legislation, if passed, would limit public access to university records and diminish independent scrutiny of the state's flagship university. In pursuit of this exemption, UW-Madison officials have circulated proposed language, initially to a list of Republican-only legislators. … The proposed legislation, which the UW initially wanted added to the state budget bill, is overly broad. If passed, it would inevitably lead to abuse.

======

Groups urge Maine Supreme Court to keep 911 call records open

The transcripts from calls to Maine’s 911 Emergency Communications Bureau are public records and should remain accessible to the public, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and five media organizations argued in a brief to the Maine Supreme Court. The friend-of-the-court brief supports an effort by Maine Today Media, publisher of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, to reverse a move by the state to deny access to 911 call records in a murder case by declaring them part of an investigative file. The trial court agreed that releasing the transcripts could affect trial testimony.

======

Vermont SOS announces Vt. State Archives opens state hospital records

Secretary of State Jim Condos announced today that more than forty cubic feet of records from the Vermont State Hospital are now open for research at the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration (VSARA). The records, some of which have been preserved by hospital staff for over a century, were transferred to the State Archives in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

======

Open government foundation hiring raises hackles

The hiring of an outspoken advocate for a liberal political organization as the new executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (NMFOG) has generated criticism from the political right but Terry Schleder says, “Conservatives have nothing to worry about.” A 49-year-old who will step down as the field director for the New Mexico Alliance for Retired Americans, Schleder was named the to job last Thursday (June 27) by the NMFOG board of directors of the organization whose slogan is, “Your Government. Your Money. Your Right to Know.”

 

June 10, 2013 1:04 PM

From VTDigger.org:  The Vermont ACLU is suing the nation’s largest private prison company for allegedly ignoring public records requests about Vermont prisoners.

The question at the heart of the lawsuit is whether or not the state’s public records act can be applied to a private corporation that is performing duties for a public agency. Vermont ACLU attorney Dan Barrett says he’s confident it can.

 

May 10, 2013 12:11 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.

 

Attorney General issues informal opinion on Iowa Public Radio questions

The intent of Iowa Public Radio to operate consistent with Iowa Public Records and Open Meetings Laws will be written into the organization’s operating agreement when that document is renewed in July, according to state officials. Some questions recently were raised about whether Iowa Public Radio is a government entity that is subject to Open Meetings and Public Records laws. The attorney representing the organization argued that despite the function it serves in the management of state-owned assets and its ties to the state Board of Regents, IPR is not a “governmental body” in the eyes of the law. But, he added, the organization has a commitment to transparency and generally allows the public to attend meetings and its information should be as open to public inspection as possible.

Visit The Gazette for the rest.

Yarmouth Housing Authority violated Open Meeting Law

YARMOUTH — The Yarmouth Housing Authority violated the state’s Open Meeting Law by failing to include sufficient detail in minutes of two executive sessions, according to a ruling of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office. Elvio Rodrigues filed the complaint on behalf of the Yarmouth Preservation Committee alleging that the minutes from the Jan. 10, 2012, and Feb. 14, 2012, executive sessions were incomplete. Hanne Rush, assistant attorney general in the Division of Open Government, stated in a letter to Rodrigues on April 17, “We find that the minutes were not sufficient for purpose of the Open Meeting Law” and she clarified that “the minutes should contain enough detail and accuracy so that a member of the public who did not attend the meeting could read the minutes and have a clear understanding of what occurred.”

Visit Wicked Local for the rest.

ACLU of New Jersey seeks records tied to $11 million in state grants to religious schools

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a public records request on Thursday demanding the disclosure of guidelines that the Christie administration followed when it granted $11 million to two religious schools, almost all of it to an orthodox Jewish rabbinical school. The money was included among in $1.3 billion in publicly funded higher education projects that the Christie administration approved last week, to be funded in part with the proceeds of a $750 million capital construction bond that voters approved last fall.

Visit NorthJersey.com for the rest.

Coliseum hid reports of financial woes, records show

The overseers of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum concealed from the public independent reports of lax financial controls and widespread spending abuses at the taxpayer-owned stadium that included sloppy accounting of hot dog sales and excessive perks for managers, records show. Problems detailed in the reports by two independent audit and consulting firms compounded money woes that leaders of the Coliseum Commission cited as a chief reason they decided to turn over stewardship of the two-time Olympic venue to USC.

Visit Los Angeles Times for the rest.

New Jersey bill would make mug shots public records

Just as Utah officials are looking for ways to restrict access to mug shots, New Jersey is going in the opposite direction. The Daily Record of Parsippany, N.J., reports that a bill is moving through the Garden State’s legislature classifying booking photos as public records. The state’s open-records laws were ambiguous on the point, with some counties denying access and others granting it.

Visit The Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

AP Exclusive: Lawmakers granted Calif. health exchange unusual secrecy in contracting records

LOS ANGELES - A California law that created an agency to oversee national health care reforms granted it sweeping authority to conceal spending on the contractors that will perform most of its functions, creating a barrier from public disclosure that stands out nationwide. ... An Associated Press review of the 16 other states that have opted for state-run marketplaces shows the California agency was given powers that are the most restrictive in what information is required to be made public.

Visit Star Tribune for the rest.

New Mexico's health insurance exchange subject to state's open government laws

SANTA FE, New Mexico — New Mexico's open government laws will apply to a state-run health insurance exchange that will serve as a marketplace for the uninsured to buy medical coverage. Legislation enacted this year makes clear the exchange and its 13-member governing board must comply with New Mexico's Open Meetings Act and the Inspection of Public Records Act.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Ruling affects Tennessee open records law

The Tennessee Open Records Law is one of several state laws upheld in a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling for its limitations on requests for public records by those who live outside of the state in question. In an unanimous opinion April 29, the high court ruled it is legal for a state to limit the use of its open records or Freedom of Information Act law to its own residents.

Visit Memphis Daily News for the rest.

Connecticut FOI panel backs dismissal of complaint about Rowland's Waterbury post

HARTFORD – The state Freedom of Information Commission – rejecting claims that the city of Waterbury failed to produce certain public records – Wednesday unanimously affirmed a hearing officer’s report dismissing the New Haven Register’s complaint regarding former Gov. John Rowland’s taxpayer-funded consulting job with the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce. The city acknowledged through testimony that hundreds of thousands of dollars changed hands and went directly to Rowland and was unable to produce checks or money transfer documents to the chamber.

Visit Housatonic Times for the rest.

Vermont house approves opening police investigation files

In a unanimous voice vote, the Vermont House pushed the state’s open records law one step closer to the federal open records model established by the decades-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The legislation, S.148, applies only to “records dealing with the detection and investigation of crime,” typically held by law enforcement officials.

Visit Vtdigger.org for the rest.

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.

 

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.

November 9, 2012 12:25 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:

image of Access

Ohio: Top lawyers analyze court rulings in new report

The Ohio Coalition for Open Government has compiled a must-read collection of stories about important court rulings and developments affecting Sunshine laws. The 16-page fall Open Government Report features analysis of court decisions by John Greiner and David Marburger, two of the top government-transparency lawyers in Ohio, and insight from the coalition’s president, Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association.

Visit The Columbus Dispatch for the rest.

Georgia: Horgan files open meetings complaint over county mgr. interviews

Fayette County Commissioner Robert Horgan has filed a formal open meetings complaint regarding the interview process to hire a new county manager, an effort undertaken by two of Horgan’s fellow commissioners along with the three commissioners-elect who will take office in January. The complaint was lodged this week with the office of Attorney General Sam Olens, which is empowered to investigate open meetings complaints.

Visit TheCitizen.com for the rest.

New Jersey: Municipal Clerk to keep track of OPRA requests

Fair Lawn (Nov 8, 2012) - The municipal clerk will begin keeping track of how much time she spends fulfilling Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests. The request came from Deputy Mayor Ed Trawinski during the Oct. 23 work session. He said he wants to see how much time the municipal clerk, who is in charge of borough records, spends addressing requests that come from companies aiming to make a profit from the information they get.

Visit NorthJersey.com for the rest.

New Mexico attorney general to hold open government seminar

Albuquerque (Nov 8, 2012) - Attorney General Gary King's office plans a meeting in Las Cruces next month to help educate citizens and public officials about New Mexico's open government laws. The office will make presentations on the Open Meetings Act and the Inspection Public Records Act, which provides the public access to documents and other information kept by government agencies.

Visit KOB.com for the rest.

Vermont Superior Court says public agencies can’t sue records requesters

Montpelier (Nov 8, 2012) - The Vermont Superior Court in Rutland has told a school supervisory union it can’t turn around and sue someone who has just made a public records request to a public agency such as a school. In the spring of this year, the Addison Rutland Supervisory Union sent Benson parent Marcel Cyr a no-trespass order, barring him from attending school board meetings or even setting foot on any school property in the supervisory union. He was threatened with arrest if he did. When Cyr submitted a public records request asking for documents relevant to why he was being banned from school property, the supervisory union at first said that it needed extra time to respond. But instead of responding to Cyr’s request, the supervisory union sued him in superior court in Rutland and asked that the court declare school officials didn’t have to answer the public records request.

Visit VTDigger.com for the rest.

Del. water authority ordered to comply with FOIA

Dover, Del. (Nov 7, 2012) — A Kent County judge ordered a local water and sewer authority on Wednesday to comply with Delaware's Freedom of Information Act and disclose information about employee salaries. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general's office against the Camden-Wyoming Sewer and Water Authority. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Georgette Williams, a member of the Wyoming town council who also serves as town treasurer.

Visit San Francisco Chronicle for the rest.

Campbell: Declassified documents give Orem woman some answers

(Oct 24, 2012) - Leslie Randle remembers well the time she bid her grandparents goodbye from the apartment building she and her family shared with them in Los Angeles. Her grandparents, Hugh and Elinor Yancey, had packed their bags and were off on another 19-week USO tour to entertain U.S. soldiers in Alaska and across the Pacific. A few weeks later, the military informed Leslie’s family that the Yanceys had died in a military plane crash just off the runway at a remote base in Alaska. There were no survivors. Most of Leslie’s family had put the story behind them, trusting the sparse facts released by the government after the crash. But for Leslie, questions about how and where the Yanceys died have haunted her for four decades. This spring, with the help of the Internet and the federal Freedom of Information Act, she found more answers. While for some the U.S. records law may be a way to uncover corruption, for Leslie the records released through the law have helped bring enlightenment.

Visit Salt Lake Tribune for the rest.

October 5, 2012 12:32 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:

Advocates fight to keep Georgia archives open to public

Getting to state archives will become a lot more difficult after Nov. 1. That’s when the Georgia Archives, a repository of records and artifacts that go back to the 1700s, is slated to be closed to the public. The only public access will be through limited appointments. ...The prospect has put the Georgia Archives in national news as the only state archives in the United States whose public records will be closed to the public.

Visit CrossRoadsNews.com for the rest.

Asheville Police Evidence Room Audit Sparks Public Records Debate

The Police Evidence Room in Asheville is the subject of an intense public records battle. More than a year ago, a partial audit revealed guns, drugs, and cash were missing. The police chief resigned. Another, more thorough audit has been completed. But the district attorney won’t release its findings. He says it’s part of an ongoing SBI investigation. A coalition of media groups sued for the audit’s release, and last week, a judge sided with the DA.

Visit WFAE for the rest.

SC justices hear clash over what documents should be made public

COLUMBIA — State Supreme Court justices quizzed lawyers on both sides of a thorny issue Wednesday involving a statewide public school advocacy group, freedom of speech and the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. “What we have here is an unprecedented case,” attorney Kevin Hall told the justices. Hall, a Columbia lawyer, is representing Rocky Disabato, a Charleston man who sued the S.C. Association of School Administrators seeking access to its internal records, including telephone records.

Visit HeraldOnline.com for the rest.

Shhhh. We're litigating.

Under Illinois law, the proceedings of some court cases are kept hidden from public view. This can make sense in narrow circumstances ...Judges, though, have broad discretion to decide when court records are sealed. ...The Tribune investigation found that judges regularly fail to give a reason in their orders for the so-called "sealing" of files, as they should to comply with the law and court guidelines. They sometimes keep the "sealing orders" secret as well, so the public has no way to know that a case has been hidden. They also seal entire cases when they need only to remove sensitive information such as home addresses or Social Security numbers.

Visit Chicago Tribune for the rest.

Albuquerque mayor Berry receives award for open government

Albuquerque's mayor gets an award for open government - but some city-dwellers said he doesn't deserve it. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government praises Mayor Richard Berry for openness and transparency at City Hall, while community activists said he is about as transparent as a concrete wall.

Visit KOB.com for the rest.

California open-meetings law based on local lawsuit

A new law that creates a low-cost way of asking local boards and commissions to adhere to open-meetings laws has its roots here in Tulare County. The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, allows members of the public to send local government bodies a cease-and-desist letter if they believe government agencies have violated the series of state open meetings laws known as the Brown Act. The government agency can avoid a court case if it makes an unconditional promise to stop the problem behavior. If it refuses, it allows the case to continue on in court.

Visit Visalia Times-Delta for the rest.

Records show stun gun use against people in mental crises, Vt.

Ten times in the past 18 months, state police fired electronic stun guns at people threatening suicide or at others experiencing a mental health crisis. That's according to police records and video recordings obtained by Vermont Public Radio under the state's open records law.

Visit Vermont Public Radio for the rest.

County records in Pa.to be available online for public viewing

Schuylkill County residents will soon be able to view county records online. The Schuylkill County Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a document management software program from PropertyInfo Corp. during a work session Wednesday.

Visit The Republican-Herald for the rest.

Ballot measure to increase California government transparency may incur costs

This November, Berkeley residents will vote on a ballot measure aiming to increase transparency in local government, despite an existing ordinance adopted just last year that planned to accomplish similar goals. ...Though the city’s earlier Open Government Ordinance was adopted in 2011 to meet similar goals of increased public record and meeting access, the new ordinance would replace the current ordinance and create a new oversight committee that could enact harsher punishments — including a lawsuit as a last resort — for officials who do not comply with the new provisions.

Visit The Daily Californian for the rest.

Open government advocates praise Tenn. comptroller's move to waive 1st $25 in records requests

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Comptroller Justin Wilson's move to automatically waive the first $25 in fees for public records requests is drawing praise from open government advocates. The proposed rules, which would also give the comptroller the discretion to waive all costs related to public record searches and copies, were unanimously recommended for adoption by the Joint Government Operations Committees on Wednesday. "The fee waiver provisions are progressive for Tennessee and should be a model for other state and local agencies," said Frank Gibson, the founding director of the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Montpelier records request yields councilors’ texts

MONTPELIER — The results of a public records request made by The Times Argus has put the spotlight on the latest trend among some public officials: texting and emailing one another during public meetings. While the issue is not illegal, it closes in on unethical behavior, and Secretary of State Jim Condos cautioned Tuesday that elected officials should be careful if they continue with the practice.

Visit Times Argus for the rest.

Changes to Georgia's open government laws could close student discipline hearings to public

ATLANTA — Changes to Georgia's open government laws may have an unintended consequence at the state's universities if student disciplinary hearings are no longer open to the public. The Red & Black, an independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia, recently requested records from student conduct hearings. UGA cited the new state law in denying the newspaper access to the records, Red & Black Publisher Harry Montevideo told The Associated Press. The university denied at least two records requests filed since July, said the paper's editorial adviser, Ed Morales.

Visit The Republic for the rest.

Wisconsin GOPers sued over potential ALEC ties

Two watchdog groups have filed a lawsuit against five Wisconsin state lawmakers; it claims that the Republicans violated the state’s public records law by failing to disclose private emails that may have tied them to the conservative advocacy group the American Legislative Exchange Council. ...According to the lawsuit, correspondence about ALEC in a private email account is still subject to a public records request, because it is “indisputably related to official government business. Wisconsin legislators are members of ALEC only by virtue of their status as a state legislator, and they correspond with ALEC in their official capacity as Wisconsin legislators.”

Visit Salon for the rest.

Syndicate content