Maine Freedom of Information Coalition celebrates 10th anniversary

Happy Birthday, MFOIC!

from Kenneth F. Bunting
Executive Director, NFOIC

Commendably, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is marking and celebrating 10 years of existence by committing itself to more good work.

According to a Kennebec Journal column by MFOIC president and NFOIC board member Mal Leary, the organization will complete its endeavor to hold forums to discuss freedom of access in all 16 of the state's counties before the end of the year.

The NFOIC sends a hearty birthday salute to our friends and colleagues in Maine. More from Leary's column, chronicling a bit of the organization's history listing a few of its endeavors and accomplishments, can be found below.

The author, Mal Leary, is a member of the board of directors and treasurer of NFOIC, and the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is a member of NFOIC.

It is your government, and you have a right to know how it is operating and how it is spending your tax dollars. Not everyone in government, however, agrees.

Maine Freedom of Information Coalition In 2001, the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition was founded by groups and individuals as diverse as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, the Maine Civil Liberties Union, the Maine Press Association, the Maine Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.

We set up our first website and started our educational outreach efforts and decided we needed to prove what we already knew: There were problems with the existing laws.

Lawmakers were not convinced there was a problem, so we looked to the public records audits in other states and worked with University of Maine faculty to develop an academically sound audit methodology.

We used a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition along with contributions from member organization to conduct the first comprehensive statewide audit, with volunteers from university campuses, the League of Women Voters and news media organizations.

It had an impact. Embarrassed that some of the public documents sought by the audit were withheld by two-thirds of the municipalities audited, legislative leaders sought to address the problem.

There were hearings in 2003, and lawmakers overwhelmingly passed legislation requiring police agencies have a written policy for inspection of records. More important was a unanimous vote of the Legislature to establish a commission to study public access.

Several Freedom of Information Coalition members served on the panel with a broad group of stakeholders. The panel found more than 600 exceptions to the public records law, scattered through out Maine laws, a surprise to most lawmakers and the public.

In 2005, using the recommendations of the study group, lawmakers created the Right to Know Advisory Committee and adopted what we believe is the most comprehensive review process in the nation.

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