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 14, 2013 3:28 PM

From Washington Coalition for Open Government: The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) invites the public to attend a free workshop from 1:00 to 4:00PM on Saturday, October 26 at the Seattle Public Library - University Branch, 5009 Roosevelt Way NE.

Experts on open government issues will lead the attendees through a process that will enable them to effectively exercise their rights under Washington’s open government laws. The purpose of the workshop is to help people understand their right to know what their state and local governments are doing. Attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard, principal of Allied Law Group and 2014 Lawyer of the Year, and D. Edson Clark, who serves on the WCOG board, will explain Washington’s open public meetings and public records laws. The workshop will feature general guidance rather than specific legal advice. Reference materials will be supplied.

In addition, there will be another free workshop from 1:00 to 4:00PM on Saturday, November 2 at the Sequim Community Church- 950 North Fifth Ave.

Experts on open government issues will lead the attendees through a process that will enable them to effectively exercise their rights under Washington’s open government laws. The purpose of the workshop is to help people understand their right to know what their state and local governments are doing. WCOG Board Member and James Andersen Honoree David Seago, and WWU journalism professor Peggy Watt will explain Washington’s open public meetings and public records laws. The workshop will feature general guidance rather than specific legal advice. Reference materials will be supplied.

Visit Washington Coalition for Open Government for more.

The Washington Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. --eds

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August 13, 2013 2:14 PM

From Seattle Times:  The King County Housing Authority says it got bad legal advice when it held unannounced meetings of a nonprofit it formed in 2009.

The housing authority set up the nonprofit, Moving King County Residents Forward, as a separate organization to get a better deal on federal housing subsidies for 22 properties around King County.

[...]

The problem emerged when a resident happened upon an unannounced meeting of Moving King County Residents Forward at the housing authority offices in Tukwila. The nonprofit had the same board, staff and address as the King County Housing Authority, but it was behaving as a private entity instead of a public one.

The resident, Cindy Ference, of Shoreline, sued. This month, she reached a settlement with the housing authority and Moving King County Residents Forward, formalizing the organization’s promise to make its meetings, minutes and documents public and transparent.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition in Columbia, Mo., which helped fund Ference’s lawsuit, said the nonprofit was essentially a “sham entity.”

“Setting up a supposedly private entity to do the public’s business in secret is a shameful practice that should not be tolerated by the public or the courts,” said Ken Bunting, the executive director of the organization.

[...]

Ference settled the open-meetings portion of her lawsuit, but she is still in litigation over public records she said the housing authority wouldn’t give her.

Get the rest from the Times here, and see the press release about the settlement here.

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August 6, 2013 1:09 PM

Settlement in Knight FOI Fund case resolves tenant’s open meeting complaint, but public records issues are still pending.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (August 6, 2013) – A public housing agency serving suburban Seattle, Wash., will institute a sweeping series of transparency measures as a result of a lawsuit made possible by the inspired persistence of an engaged public housing resident and a litigation grant made under the Knight FOI Fund.

Cindy Ference, a tenant in a King County Housing Authority complex for senior and disabled people in Shoreline, Wash., sued the housing agency over open-meetings violations in April after learning it had set up a shadow entity to carry out some of its programs without public oversight. Ms. Ference and her attorney, Katherine George, reached a settlement agreement with the Housing Authority to ensure that the public can learn about programs of the agency as well as its shadow entity, a nonprofit called Moving King County Residents Forward. 

“This settlement ensures that the Housing Authority will not only meet, but exceed, Washington state requirements for governments to make decisions openly,” Ference said. “Furthermore, it will allow the thousands of residents served by the Housing Authority to be better informed regarding the decisions that affect their lives.”

Ference received financial support for her legal action from the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), which administers the Knight FOI Fund. The open government litigation fund, which is intended to assist meritorious open government lawsuits, was begun in 2010 under a grant to NFOIC and the University of Missouri from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

See the full release here.

 

July 30, 2013 10:23 AM

From the Kirkland Reporter:  Open and transparent government is essential to liberty, and access to public records is a key element of open government.

As an advocate for government transparency and accountability, as well as a Kirkland City Council member, I believe that the council placed the city on the cutting edge of public records access by its recent unanimous adoption of two pieces of legislation.

Ordinance O-4414, “Access to Public Records,” and Resolution R-4987, “Public Records Act Rules,” will govern how Kirkland handles public records requests going forward.

[...]

Kirkland has elevated the city service of providing access to public records to “first class” status like other essential city services, requiring that the handling of public records requests be evaluated and funded as part of all future budget deliberations by the city council. The ordinance and rules create a performance management system for records requests, with goals and performance metrics like every other essential city service.

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Toby Nixon is a member of the Kirkland City Council and president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, a member of NFOIC. --eds.

 

May 6, 2013 8:44 AM

Editorial from The Seattle Times:  Last November, the King County Housing Authority quietly granted a 30-year lease on 509 of its apartment units to an obscure nonprofit agency called Moving King County Residents Forward.

The deal happened in an open meeting, as required by the state Open Public Meetings Act, since the housing authority is a public agency. But since then, getting information about how this nonprofit operates has been difficult, since nonprofit agencies aren’t required to operate with the same level of transparency.

[...]

A decade ago, when three daily newspapers covered King County government instead of one, a reporter may have noticed these actions. Today, there are many fewer eyes. That makes it even more incumbent on government to function in the daylight.

For more on this lawsuit, see NFOIC supports lawsuit accusing government agency of repeatedly violating Washington state’s open government laws.

 

April 24, 2013 2:40 PM

Resident claims that King County Housing Authority has established a nonprofit shadow organization to carry out its programs while circumventing the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (April 23, 2013) - With support from the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and Knight FOI Fund, a public housing resident in suburban Seattle filed a lawsuit today accusing a local housing authority of repeatedly violating Washington state’s public disclosure and open meeting laws.

Cindy Ference, who lives in a King County Housing Authority complex for senior and disabled people in Shoreline, Wa., brought the action after discovering that the Housing Authority has set up an allegedly private nonprofit organization to carry out its programs without public oversight. The shadow organization, called Moving King County Residents Forward, has the same governing board, the same staff and the same offices as the Housing Authority.

The lawsuit alleges that the scheme results in repeated violations of Washington state’s Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act, and seeks an injunction to stop the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners from meeting privately in its dual capacity as a nonprofit organization’s board.

See the release in its entirety and link to lawsuit here.

 

December 12, 2012 9:46 AM

From Sequim Gazette:

For their efforts to demand proper open government practices, the Clallam County Quality Care Coalition recently was awarded the Key Award from the Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG).
 
WCOG bestows Key Awards to recognize a person or organization who has done something notable for the cause of open government.
 
Bill Kildall and Pat Slaten, organizers of Clallam County Quality Care Coalition, were nominated for the award by Patience Rogge of Port Townsend, a WCOG board member, for their work to monitor the actions of Olympic Medical Center (Public Hospital District No. 2), for recognizing that the board and administration of the hospital district had strayed from strict observance of the Washington state Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act, and for taking positive steps to rectify the situation.
 
[...]
 
“Clallam County Quality Care Coalition is a great example of the kind of group we need across the state,” said Toby Nixon, WCOG president. 
 
[...]
 
Washington Coalition for Open Government is an independent nonpartisan nonprofit organization founded in 2002 by a group of individuals representing organizations with a broad spectrum of opinions and backgrounds, all dedicated to the principles of strengthening the state’s open government laws and protecting the public’s access to government at all levels.

Washington Coalition for Open Government is a member of NFOIC. -- eds.

 

November 28, 2012 5:00 PM

From The Freedom Foundation:

OLYMPIA (Nov 28, 2012) - The Freedom Foundation today released Best Practices for Public Agency Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act, a go-to source of information on a number of issues related to Washington State’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).

The state does not have an official set of model rules for the OPMA. Questions that are not directly addressed in the OPMA are sent to Tim Ford, the Open Government Ombudsman at the Attorney General’s office.

The publication has already received praise for its clarification of the law and addressing a number of frequently asked questions pertaining to the OPMA. One of the first to comment was Attorney General Rob McKenna.

“I commend the Freedom Foundation for its efforts in addressing common questions about the Open Public Meetings Act,” he said, “and for providing guidance on a sometimes complicated law governing public officials. This document provides good basic information and suggests best practices for new public officials subject to the OPMA.”

Click here to download the Best Practices for Public Agency Compliance with the Open Public Meetings Act (PDF/575KB)

The Freedom Foundation is a member of NFOIC. The publication was made possible by a grant from NFOIC. -- eds

November 19, 2012 2:00 PM

From Sunlight Foundation:

When approved by the voters in 1972, the Public Records Act granted government only 10 exemptions from public disclosure. Since then, more than 300 exemptions have been added. State courts have further weakened the public’s access to information with various legal rulings.
 
Along with the Public Records Act, citizens are provided access to the activities of government through the state Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA). ...
 
[...]
 
Due to the massive expansion in the number of exemptions from public disclosure and numerous violations of the Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act, as identified by the State Auditor in his 2008 Performance Audit, meaningful open-government reforms are needed to restore the people’s power to remain “informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.”

 

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