NFOIC's State FOIA Friday for July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013 11:12 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.

The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Opinion: Overturn bad ethics law

The apparent intent of the law is to help prevent public officials from being embarrassed or compromised by frivolous complaints to the ethics board. But we believe the public is smart enough to sort through competing claims and counterclaims as ethics complaints work their way through the system. To make such informed judgments, citizens need an open, transparent process in which those bringing ethics complaints — and those defending against such complaints — have wide latitude to speak freely. The present law, which favors those in authority at the expense of those who challenge authority, seems like an exercise in dictatorship, not democracy.

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North Jersey Media Group sues Gov. Christie for public records

Gov. Chris Christie's office refuses to release records that could show just what Republican campaign contributors did under state contracts after Hurricane Sandy, The Record newspaper claims in court. The North Jersey Media Group, whose flagship is The Record, sued New Jersey, the Governor's Office and Custodian of Records Hillary Hewit, in Mercer County Court. Record reporter Shawn Boburg submitted an Open Public Records Act request for invoices and attachments submitted to the state by Witt Group Holdings. The state eventually produced records but the timesheets were "heavily redacted," The Record says in the complaint. It wants to see the unredacted records.

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Battle Ground (Wash.) school district may have violated state law

Battle Ground Public Schools appears to have violated the state's Public Records Act by withholding a severance agreement with its embattled former superintendent. The school board members signed an agreement with Superintendent Shonny Bria on April 29, withheld the document for almost two months, and when The Columbian and The Reflector made specific public records requests about Bria's compensation, the district denied that such a record existed. "When it's signed by both parties, it then becomes a public document," said Matt Miller, deputy state auditor of the Washington State Auditor's Office. Miller said he will be looking at the Battle Ground case.

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FOI Oklahoma blog: Governor claims political influences on state policy should be kept secret

Gov. Mary Fallin is claiming an executive privilege to hide records that reveal political considerations behind her decisions on state policy. Included would be documents telling Fallin "who might be supportive of certain policy agendas in the legislature, both now and in the future, whether such support would exist after an upcoming election, and whether facts exist to help persuade the legislatures and others to support the governor's agenda," according to the formal response to an Open Records Act lawsuit against the governor. Fallin is the first Oklahoma governor to claim these privileges even though as a candidate she pledged to "support at every opportunity" the state's policy that "people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power."

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Connecticut FOI advocate says law after Sandy Hook shootings protecting photos goes too far

[Senate Bill 1149] was born behind closed doors in secret meetings among the governor’s staff, legislative leaders and the state’s top prosecutor. It bypassed the traditional public hearing process and was signed into law within 12 hours of the vote. Along the way, the exemptions in the bill were expanded from Newtown-specific privacy protections to include protections for all homicide victims when the the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus of senators and House members argued that lone victims on city streets should be entitled to the same respect as the Newtown victims and their families.

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Man files FOIA lawsuit against Whitestone (N.Y.) over civic virtue

A group advocating for the Triumph of Civic Virtue statue has filed a lawsuit against a city agency, claiming that it did not fully comply with its Freedom of Information request. Robert LoScalzo, a Whitestone resident and documentary filmmaker, submitted a lawsuit against the Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services accusing the agency of not handing over all the documents he asked for in his FOIA application. ... The FOIA requested that DCAS hand over all of their communication documents with Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery, where the structure was moved and the contractor who performed the job.

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Editorial: Public info belongs to the people of King County (Wash.)

In the Shoreline case, the information was being sought by Beth and Doug O’Neil after the content of an email criticizing the Shoreline City Council was read aloud at a meeting and incorrectly attributed to Beth O’Neil. She wanted to know who wrote the email and requested a copy. They received the email but not the metadata ... Four years later, in 2010, the state Supreme Court ruled metadata were subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. But the city hired computer experts who searched for the original message and later testified it was lost, according to The Associated Press. And that brings us to the $538,555 award by the judge — $438,555 for legal costs and $100,000 in damages.

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Hartford Courant Editorial: Who loses when the public's business is done in secret?

During this year's session of the General Assembly, more than the usual amount of legislation was negotiated in secret, pushed to passage without a public hearing, sprung on unsuspecting lawmakers by leaders in the session's last minutes or otherwise hatched without proper vetting. The legislative corner-cutting at the expense of transparency is becoming so prevalent that some harried freedom-of-information advocates bandied about the idea of a constitutional amendment that would prohibit legislation from becoming law without a public hearing.

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