FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Melissa MacGowan, Administrator
NATIONAL FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COALITION
101E Reynolds Journalism Institute
Columbia, MO 65211
(573) 882-4856 · firstname.lastname@example.org
Supported by a grant from the Knight Foundation, the suit’s settlement
includes training from state’s Sunshine group
COLUMBIA, Mo. (January 14, 2014) – Using a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition(NFOIC), Cindy Ference, a tenant in a King County Housing Authority complex in Shoreline, WA took on the housing authority in a lawsuit last year alleging violations of the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Records Act.
Her successful 2013 lawsuit exposed a now-abolished practice of using a private non-profit board to conduct public Housing Authority business. Ms. Ference and the Housing Authority settled the open-meeting claims last summer, initiating the first round of reforms, including earlier and more detailed notice of Housing Authority board meetings, posting agendas online, and posting adopted resolutions online in a searchable format. The new settlement resolves the remaining claims under the Public Records Act, and brings the case to a final conclusion.
In the final settlement, the Housing Authority, which serves more than 18,000 low-income, senior and disabled residents in the suburbs of Seattle, agreed to pay Ms. Ference $24,300, which is equivalent to the maximum $100 per day in penalties authorized by Washington’s Public Records Act, in addition to attorney fees. Those payments were received last week.
Also, the settlement requires that senior staff members and public records officers of the King County Housing Authority receive training to ensure transparency in the future as part of comprehensive voluntary reforms. The Washington Coalition for Open Government(WCOG), a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, will provide training. “We hope this settlement will serve as a model for state and local agencies to partner with WCOG in ensuring open and accountable government,” said WCOG President Toby Nixon.
Ference received financial support for her legal action from 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. Hyde Post, president of NFOIC, said, “This is the kind of positive change that the Knight FOI Fund is designed to promote.”
The NFOIC is a nonpartisan national coalition of state and regional open government groups and advocates headquartered at the Missouri School of Journalism. Its mission is to foster government transparency at the state and local levels. The Knight FOI Fund was begun under a $2 million, three-year grant to NFOIC and the University from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight FOI Fund is set up to assist the pursuit of important open government cases by helping to defray upfront costs such as filing fees, depositions, court costs and other expenses associated with legal actions. For more information on the Knight FOI Fund, please visit: http://www.nfoic.org/knight-foi-fund
Since it began in January 2010, the Knight FOI Fund has assisted litigants with 35 grant awards in FOI or public access cases. While some are still being adjudicated, Knight Fund-supported cases have resulted in 21 favorable court orders or settlements that achieved more transparency or greater access.