Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. 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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Arizona is FIrst State to Make Metadata Available for Public Review

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that "if a public entity maintains a public record in an electronic format, then the electronic version, including any embedded metadata, is subject to disclosure under our public records law."  The Court did not decide when a public entity must keep information electronically, but if it does, then the entity should provide the native files.  

With its ruling, the Arizona Supreme Court is the first state to rule that metadata is available for public review.  

Metadata is hidden data about data that details a document's creation and revisions, showing when and who made such changes.  

Get more information here and here

Friday, October 30, 2009

White House Visitor Logs Released

Released in a Friday afternoon data drop are the White House Visitor Logs from January 20 - July 31, 2009.  Check it out for yourself here and the Huffington Post link here

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Records in the Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping Case to become Public

A federal judge ruled to make public sealed court docket entries and most hearings related to the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case.  However, competency reports about Brian David Mitchell and records that involve a privacy right of anyone else involved will remain closed. Mitchell is charged with Smart's kidnapping and has been found incompetent to stand trial in state court twice.  A 10-day federal court competency proceeding is scheduled to begin November 30.  

An attorneys for media organizations say the ruling is "good news for access."  Get more information here.

Got a Parking Ticket in Chicago? So Did Everyone Else.

Chicago privatized its parking meter enforcement in February, and records obtained by a FOIA request by The Chicago Tribune show a 26% increase in parking meter violations as compared to last year.  

In the first eight months of 2009, 327,650 tickets were issued for expired meters or overstaying a park-and-display spot.  That's up from fewer than 260,000 tickets in the same time period in 2008.

The tickets have brought the city $7 million more in revenue.  

More here

Rating the Responsiveness of Florida School Districts

Non-profit Sunshine Review recently conducted its Back-to-School guide for parents regarding the responsiveness of the state's school systems.  Although they found some exceptional cases like Orange County Public Schools, it also found instances where the records were difficult to obtain either because of cryptic responses, expensive costs, and bureaucratic attitudes. 

Check out the details here


Monday, October 26, 2009

AP Seeks Video of Stinger Grenade Explosion in Prison Cell

The Associated Press filed suit against the Wisconsin Department of Corrections for its refusal to release a 2005 video showing a stinger grenade exploding inside a prisoner's cell after a guard dropped it.

The Department refused the open records request on grounds that the tape would jeopardize the security and safety of inmates and staff at the prison.  

Get more information here

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Loud Music as an Interrogation Technique

On behalf of the National Campaign to Close Guantanamo, the National Security Archive in Washington is filing a FOI request seeking classified records that detail the use of loud music as an interrogation device. 

The Associated Press reports that documents and interviews with former detainees reveal that music from AC/DC, Britney Spears, the Bee Gees, and Marilyn Manson was used to block communication between detainees.  Critics say the music was also used to humiliate, terrify, punish, disorient and deprive detainees of sleep, violating international law.  

Get more information here

SEC to Consider Public Information Requests

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will consider three proposals to shed more light on non-public trading entities, including dark pools.  Dark pools match big stock order privately.  

The proposals would require dark pools to make information about an investor's interest in buying or selling a stock available to the public and to publicly identify if their pool executes a trade.  

Check out the article from the Wall Street Journal. 

The Washington Post Asks: Do we have a right to know the central bank's inner workings?

In this article, The Washington Post poses a question examining the scope of public inquiry into the inner workings of the Federal Reserve Board, especially with respect to two pending issues.  First is the legislation sponsored by Ron Paul (R-Tex.), a bill that would require annual audits of the Fed's monetary policy-making and short-term lending.  Second is the litigation brought by Bloomberg News for access to the Fed's data on crisis lending under the FOIA.  

What do you think?  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oklahoma Supreme Court Decision Troubles Open Records Advocates

A ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court effectively carves out an exception to the state's Open Records Act by forbidding the release of all the state's electronic case information under the state Open Records Act.  The ruling also affirms public access to electronic court records on a case-by-case basis.  

The Court rejected the bulk data request of INAD Data Services LLC for electronic copies of all district court and workers' compensation court case information.  

Controversy started brewing when it came to light that another company, KellPro Inc. has a $1 million contract with the state Supreme Court to get electronic court records from 64 counties ready for a unified system of public access on the Web. 

State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) criticized the Court for contracting with one private company to provide data while simultaneously cutting off access to other companies.  

Get more details here

Evaluating the Senate's Passage of the Open FOIA Act

The Senate's passage of the Open FOIA Act presents a mixed bag.   It's disappointing that the Senate exempted photos showing detainee treatment under U.S. force's control, adding yet another exemption to the 240 already written into the law.  On the other hand, the bill requires the invocation of any future FOIA exemptions to cite the specific part of the act that permits them, making it easier to identify and debate those proposed exemptions.  

For more information, click here

Virginians Want Ethics Investigations Made Public

According to a poll of 506 likely voters conducted by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University between October 8 - 13, more than 80% of likely voters say an appointed citizens review panel for ethical complaints against legislators should be made public.

Under current law, the five-member panel investigates in private.  If the panel determines a violation has occurred, the compliant is made public.  If the panel dismisses the panel, the complaint remains private unless the legislator chooses to make it public.  The October poll showed less than 10% of the likely voters polled support the current law.

For more information, click here

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

First Eight Months of Obama White House Visitor Logs Still Guarded

The White House settled a lawsuit with the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and announced last month that it would voluntarily publish White House visitor logs on its website beginning December 31.  So one might except that the Obama administration would release similar records to other public interest groups in the meantime.

Not so.  Through the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service said White House visitor logs fall under the Presidential Records Act, and thus are not subject to disclosure under the FOIA because they don't originate with a federal agency.  The Secret Service denied the request of judicial watchdog group, Judicial Watch, for visitor log records from January 20  - September 15.

Judicial Watch issued a press release expressing its intent to continue to seek release of the records in question.  

More here.  

Congress Expected to Pass Bill Permitting Defense Department to Suppress Evidence of its Misconduct

Congress is expected to pass an amendment to the Homeland Security appropriations bill this week that will allow the Defense Department to suppress evidence of its own misconduct.  The amendment has passed the House and is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) proposed the amendment in response to an appellate court decision requiring the Defense Department to release photos of Afghan and Iraqi prisoner abuse, stemming from a 2003 FOIA request filed by the ACLU.  

More from the LA Times here.

Update: U.S. Supreme Court Blocks Release of Referendum 71 Petitioners

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has temporarily blocked Washington state officials from releasing the Referendum 71 ballot petitions.  Referendum 71 is a ballot initiative asking Washington voters to approve or reject the state's law that grants domestic partners the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.   

Kennedy's order will remain in effect while he considers a request by a pro-marriage group that asked him to reverse the appellate court ruling, which had order the names released.  

Get more information here

Follow-Up: Nearly 3,000 PIN Messages Released in Florida

Following the revelation that public service commission aides had given their PIN access codes to a Florida Power & Light attorney, the Herald/Times obtained email records and instant messages of staff and commissioners at Florida's utility regulator. PIN messages allow the senders to bypass state servers.  

 Of the nearly 3,000 messages obtained, more than 2,400 are from Public Service Commissioner Nancy Argenziano.  Argenziano's seemingly stream-of-consciousness messages reveal her distrust of fellow commissioners.  Because Argenziano has been an outspoken critic of the PSC, Associated Industries of Florida has questioned her impartiality in a rate case and have called for the agency's inspector general to investigate her.  

Get more details here

Bad Obama -- Health Care Negotiations Taking Place Behind Closed Doors

Despite campaign promises to reform health care in the sunlight of public scrutiny, Obama's allowing health care legislation negotiations to take place behind closed doors.  Senators Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as well as top White House aides are trying to merge competing versions of the legislation into one bill.

Republicans and open government advocates are upset by the secretive process.

More here.

FOI at Work: The Washington Post Investigates AIDS Organizations in DC

Check out this investigation undertaken by The Washington Post:

"Over ten months, the Washington Post analyzed the spending, services, and finances of every specialized AIDS organization funded by D.C.'s HIV/AIDS Administration from 2004-2008, an estimated 90 groups, building a database from tax returns, audits, lawsuits, real estate records, D.C. Council records, and corporate and police reports. The Post also obtained grant agreements, invoices and government correspondence for about 60 of these groups. The newspaper interviewed dozens of people with HIV or AIDS patients, their families and service providers, and visited more than a dozen offices across the city."

Take Two - Texas Public Officials Will Try to Challenge Texan Open Meetings Act

At least 20 Texas public officials are expected to file a suit in federal court in the West Texas city of Pecos, asserting the state's Open Meetings Act violates their right to free speech.  

The open meetings act prevents a quorum of government officials from deliberating in secret and carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a similar lawsuit for lack of standing as the plaintiffs were no longer in office.  The  attorney for the anticipated suit says they've cured the standing problem because the 20 officials who will be plaintiffs are current public officials.

Get more info here

No Right to Access Judicial Records or Investigations in Washington

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that state open records laws do not extend to judicial records or investigations into allegations of judicial misconduct.  

The case centered on a February 2008 public records request seeking records and correspondence related to the resignation of Federal Way Municipal Court Judge Colleen Hartl. While the city provided some documentation, it refused to release the correspondence of the presiding judge relating to the investigation.   

For more on this decision, click here

Florida State Releases Academic Fraud Investigation Files

Following a favorable ruling for The Associated Press and other news-media organizations, Florida State released a 695-page transcript on an N.C.A.A. hearing regarding an academic fraud case spanning 2006 and 2007 and involving 61 athletes across 10 sports.   

The transcript included the testimony of the university president, T.K. Wetherell, as well as university professors and administrators, and Brenda Monk, a learning specialist hired to work with Florida State athletes with learning and physical disabilities.  In the transcript, Wetherell apologized for the actions of a "rogue tutor" and an instructor.  Wetherell also minimized the blame placed upon the athletes, who were found to have received answers to test questions and allowed tutors to type and write their papers.  Monk has since left the university and has filed a defamation suit against Florida State.  

As a result of the investigation, the N.C.A.A. put Florida State on probation, reduced scholarships, and revoked the record of all wins in which the affected athletes participated.  The school is appealing the vacating of the wins, but has accepted the remaining sanctions.  

Get the NY Times article here, which includes a link to the transcript of the N.C.A.A. hearing.  

Follow Up: Ninth Circuit Orders Release of Referendum 71 Petitions in Washington

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a Thurston County Superior Court judge granting a temporary restraining order against Sam Reed concerning compliance with a public records request for copies of past initiative petitions, saying that order relied upon an incorrect legal standard.  That means the Washington's Referendum 71 petitions must be released pursuant to a public records request.   

Referendum 71 is an effort to overturn a Washington bill granting state registered domestic partners all rights, responsibilities and obligations granted or imposed by state law on married couples.

Click here for the Ninth Circuit's order.  

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Reaction to Lessig's "Against Transparency" Argument

Responses keep coming to Lessig's New Republic article, "Against Transparency: The perils of openness in government." 

Carl Malamud urges caution and a measured response to the title of Lessig's article.  Malamud argues Lessig isn't against transparency per se, but against transparency "with no broader and deeper aims, [which] will no automatically produce good results, and may indeed produce randomness in our government or far worse."

Other commentators agree that the title to Lessig's article misses the mark, arguing that Lessig is truly against accountability and "that the subject of his concern is not openness in government; it is openness in politics."

Release of Washington Referendum 71 Initiative Signatures Stayed Pending Appeal

Until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hears the dispute over Referendum 71, an effort to overturn a bill granting state registered domestic partners all rights, responsibilities and obligations granted or imposed by state law on married couples, state election officials cannot release the signatures and addresses of the people who signed 11 statewide initiatives ruled Thurston County Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks.

The Olympian reports:  "Hicks said there is a clear conflict between the state Supreme Court's likely interpretation of state public-records law and what U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle ruled last month in the dispute over releasing names and signatures of voters who signed Referendum 71."

Get the full report here

Michigan Coach Backs Off Best-Ever Boasts, Citing No Data

Earlier this year, Michigan coach Rich Rodriquez had boasted that the football team would break a record for the highest overall team GPA for a semester this year.  But he's had to back off those claims after the Free Press requested details under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, saying that the all-time GPA record isn't know to him or anyone at the university because the university doesn't maintain any such records.  

Rodriquez said his earlier comments were based upon an estimate of the all-time record team GPA, not an actual calculation.  Rodriquez blamed unnamed academic advisers within the athletic department for not telling him the numbers were estimations.

Click here for more. 

Bush Administration Document Evidencing 2007 "Endangerment Finding" Released

The Environmental Protection Agency released a 2007 report called the "endangerment finding" written by Bush administration officials that concluded that the government should begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions because global warming posed serious risks to the country.  The Bush administration refused to make the report public because it opposed new governmental efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

The report was released pursuant to a FOIA request by the environmental trade publication Greenwire.   

Get more information here

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

They Say He's the Most Secretive Texas Governor (Hint: It's Not George Bush)

Texas Governor Rick Perry is being called the most secretive modern-day governor Texas has seen.  

The Dallas Morning News reports on Perry's latest public records squabble -- his refusal to release documents he reviewed before the July 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.   Perry has also fought to keep his itinerary private under the guise of security concerns and has his staff on a tight document retention schedule wherein e-mails are destroyed every seven days. 

For more on the Willingham case and its political implications for Perry, click here.  

Poof! Making Virtual Information Disappear

A team of University of Washington computer scientists have developed a system to make electronic communications, like e-mail, Facebook posts and chat messages, automatically self-destruct and become irretrievable.  Much better than any "delete" button, the program would remove content from all websites, inboxes, outboxes, backup site and home computers. 

The prototype is called Vanish, and it would place a time limit on text uploaded to any website through a web browser.  

Get more details about the project here

Stimulus Money Spent on Low Priority Projects for the FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration keeps track of its priority projects through a national priority rating system, but records show that more than $270 million in stimulus grants awarded by the FAA have gone to low-priority projects.  Among the low-priority projects receiving stimulus money: a $1.85 million terminal expansion project at Idaho's Pocatello Regional Airport, $2.5 million for mobile firefighting training equipment in Virginia, and $1 million to improve baggage handling at an Illinois airport that services cargo planes.

Get more information here

Virginia Coalition for Open Government Award Winners

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government announced its awards earlier this week.  

Carol Lindstrom of Christiansburg won the Laurence E. Richardson award for individual contributions resulting from her work to create a website for the town of Christiansburg based upon documents she obtained through FOIA requests.  Lindstrom also posts audio and video recordings of Town Council, Planning Commission, and other meetings.  

For a full list of the winners, click here

An Argument Against Transparency

Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig brings us this really interesting article about transparency, and specifically about his concerns about the long-term consequences about transparency.   

Lessig argues "pathological transparency" or "naked transparency" alone will doom our democracy, much as it has our music industry as well as print and investigative journalism organizations.  The result of "naked transparency," writes Lessig is:  "The most cynical will be the most salient.  Limited attention span will assure that the most salient is the most stable.  Unwarranted conclusions will be drawn, careers will be destroyed, alienation will grow."

Read the whole article here

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Schwarzenegger Vetoed Transparency Bills

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a SB 218, a bill authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), which he says would have brought greater transparency and accountability to California's public higher education institutions.

SB 218 would have modified the California Public Records Act to include auxiliary organizations that perform government functions at the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges.

More here.

Washington Judge Orders City Report Withheld and Destroyed

Without citing any legal exemptions from Washington's Public Records Act, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Steven Mura ruled that a Bellingham city report that was critical of a local construction firm be blocked from public disclosure and destroyed if his decision isn't appealed within 30 days.  

The Bellingham Herald requested a copy of the report, but the construction firm argued the report contained false information that would be damaging to its business.  An arbitrator had earlier found that the city committed "substantial breaches of contract" with the construction firm, which had been hired to install drainage and sprinkler pipe, new ball field soil and turf.

Get more information here.

Search Warrants Withheld Despite Legal Authority to the Contrary

Officials in Logan County, Illinois are refusing to produce search warrant applications and supporting affidavits in connection with a murder investigation on the grounds that the investigation is on-going.  However, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan ruled two years ago that search warrant applications and accompanying affidavits are public records - without respect to a pending investigation -- after the warrants are served unless a judge orders the documents sealed.  

Get more information here.

Florida Council Member Bullies City Clerk into Resignation over Email Release

From the St. Petersburg Times comes this report about Seminole City Councilmember Tom Barnhorn, who wanted City Clerk Ginger Stilton to keep his emails private unless there was a specific request for them.  Barnhorn had asked Stilton for information on costs and methods for moving Seminole elections from March to November. Stilton provided that information not only to Barnhorn, but to all the council members, on the grounds that it was a record pertaining to government business.  Although Barbara Petersen of the Florida First Amendment Foundation says Barnhorn's request wasn't a technical violation of Florida's public records law, she said Barnhorn doesn't understand the term "confidential records" or how his request may be violating city policy.  

Stilton resigned from office without issuing an apology demanded by Barnhorn after he sent an email to Seminole City Manager Frank Edmunds blasting Stilton for "not show[ing] me the respect due an Elected Official."  

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Year and Waiting... Palin's Emails Still Not Produced

Records requests for Sarah Palin's emails made by the Alaska Democratic Party remain unfilled, even though it's been more than a year since the request.  

Alaska officials say they are working on the large request, which requires lawyers to review each email to determine if it should be withheld for privacy concerns or to protect the "deliberative process," an executive privilege granted to the governor and close advisers.  

More here

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Michigan Governmental Units Feud in Court over FOI Records Request

In a suit pitting the Michigan Department of Corrections against the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office, a judge ordered MDOC to pay a fine and attorneys' fees to the prosecutor's office.  

The suit stems from prosecutor Jessica Cooper's FOI request for a list of names of prisoners set to be paroled.  MDOC said it didn't have such a list, but Cooper sued and a judge agreed that MDOC did not honor the FOI request.  

A waste of taxpayer money?  "It's silly that this had to play out in court and waste everyone's time," Russ Marlan of MDOC told Michigan NPR.

Listen to the report here.

Provision in a Homeland Security Funding Bill Would Block Release of Torture Photos

The American Civil Liberties Union says a provision of the homeland security funding bill could block the release of photos of prisoners abused in U.S. custody abroad.  Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) proposed the provision, which would make such photos exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. 

The ACLU filed a FOI request for 2,000 photos of alleged abuse with the Department of Defense in 2003.  In 2005, a U.S. District Court judge in New York ordered the photos released, a decision that was upheld in 2008 by an appellate court.   The Obama administration has refused to comply with the order and asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.   

Click here for more information.  

West Virginia Supreme Court to Decide How FOI Applies to Judges

The West Virginia Supreme Court will decide the extent to which the state's freedom of information laws applies to judges.  

The case stems from The Associated Press's request for 13 emails between former W.V. Supreme Court Chief Justice Elliot "Spike" Maynard and top coal executive Don Blakenship of Massey Energy.  The Kanawha County Circuit Court ruled only five of the 13 emails need be released.  The Associated Press appealed, arguing all 13 of the emails should be released. 

The Supreme Court's administrator has also appealed, saying emails and correspondence involving the justices are exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act.  

For more info, click here

FBI Investigated Anna Nicole Smith in Murder-for-Hire Plot

Records obtained by the Associated Press reveal that the FBI investigated Anna Nicole Smith in 2000 and 2001 for a murder-for-hire plot targeting E. Pierce Marshall, the son of the model's tycoon husband, J. Howard Marshall II.  The younger Marshall was at the center of a legal fight to keep Smith from inheriting his father's oil wealth, valued in the hundreds of millions.  

The documents show no evidence of Smith's involvement in such a plot. 

J. Howard Marshall II died of natural causes in 1995, E. Pierce Marshall died of natural causes in 2006, and Anna Nicole Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007.  The legal wrangling over Marshall's wealth continues in California courts.

Seattle Officers' Names Released to Citizen Accountability Group

The city of Seattle didn't violate its labor contract with the police guild when it released police disciplinary files to a citizen oversight panel, according to a state labor board ruling.

The Seattle Office of Professional Accountability Review Board reviews complaints against police officers and reports to the City Council regarding trends in misconduct cases or recommendations for training.  Until the City Council passed an ordinance in 2006, the review board only had access to files with the names of officers redacted.  

The Seattle Police Officer's Guild challenged the ordinance and the release of unredacted disciplinary files on the grounds that its contract required confidentiality of the officers' names. 

The Public Employment Relations Commission first ruled in favor of the police guild, but the city's appeal to the full three-member commission overturned that decision.  The guild could appeal to the Superior Court.

For more details, click here

A How-To Guide for Creating Transparency in Government

Jerry Mechling, a lecturer in public policy and faculty chair of the Leadership for a Networked World Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, brings us his recommendations for governmental transparency and accountability initiatives.  His advice includes releasing data in computer-readable form, collaborating visibly, developing technology that balances privacy and security standards, and creating organizations that foster transparency.  

Follow this link for more detailed advice. 

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Illini Fighting Release of Admissions Clout List

The Chicago Tribune's "Clout Goes to College" investigation into a scandal at the University of Illinois involving admissions of "subpar but politically connected applicants" over more qualified applicants. The newspaper is challenging the university's refusal to release hundreds of names of applicants and any law enforcement subpoenas received by the school as well as the results of a July poll of alumni and other respondents.  

So far the fallout from the scandal includes U. of I. President B. Joseph White, who announced his resignation last month, and the replacement of six university trustees.  

The legal battle playing out in a Sangamon County court pits student privacy against public disclosure. 

Get more details here

Washington Task Force to Consider an Open Records Board

The Washington state attorney general and state auditor launched a task force to consider how to create a publicly-funded open-records board or commission to decide open-records and open-meetings quickly and outside of court.   The task force includes representatives from the state legislature, government, unions, lawyers and citizen activists.  The task force will craft a recommendation for lawmakers to consider in January.  

For more information about the task force and the Pennsylvania and Connecticut models being considered, click here.  

Bloomberg Demands Bank Names; Court Stays Release

The Bloomberg News Unit of Bloomberg LP is seeking the names of companies that received loans from the Federal Reserve.  Bloomberg attorneys say the central bank should be forced to disclose the corporate identities because the Federal Reserve can't demonstrate that borrowers would be harmed by such a disclosure.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit disagreed, and stayed the release of information during the appeal. 

Click here for more information. 

Thursday, October 08, 2009

AP Finds Out Who Geithner's "Favorites" Are

The Associated Press reviewed seven months of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's appointment calendars and found he talks to executives from Citigroup, Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. frequently, sometimes several times a day.  These executives had the ear of the Treasury Secretary more often than Senate Banking Committee Chair Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) or Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) who lead the effort to approve Geithner's overhaul of the financial system.  

As BusinessWeek notes, "There is nothing inherently wrong with senior Treasury Department officials speaking regularly with industry executives, or even with the secretary keeping tabs on the market's biggest players, even though critics say Geithner risks succumbing too much to these bankers' self-interested worldview." 

Get more info here

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Tracing an E.Coli-Tainted Hamburger from the Freezer to the Farm

A fascinating piece of work by the New York Times.  A 22-year old woman is paralyzed after eating a grilled hamburger at her mother's house in the fall of 2007.  Through records requests and confidential interviews, the writer traces the tainted meat from freezer to farm.  Get it here

Monday, October 05, 2009

Galveston Community Organizer Seeks to Change City Government Form

Galveston community activist David Stanowski is starting the Galveston Open Government Project to ferret out corruption at the city manager level.  Stanowski also wants to change the city's form of government from a city manager form to a mayoral form of government.  Stanowski is soliciting funding from community members as well as national foundations and organizations.

Click here for more information. 

An Oklahoma D.A. Charges 8 Officials with Open Meetings Act Violations

Larry Moore, the Muskogee County district attorney, is throwing the book at eight county officials, including the Sheriff, Police Chief, County Commissioner, and members of the Criminal Trust Authority.  Between them, they're charged with 38 misdemeanor counts of violating Oklahoma's Open Meetings Act.   

A violation of the open-meeting law could result in a fine of up to $500 and up to one year in jail.

Way to go, Larry!  Get more details here

Wisconsin Legislator Wants to Limit Access to State Court Records

Wisconsin Rep. Marlin Schneider wants to restrict access to information in Wisconsin's online court records because employers use the site to screen potential employees and neighbors check out neighbors online.   He proposes to show only information for criminal convictions or civil judgments, and requiring the public to pay $10 annually and register with the state courts director to use the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access site.  Judges, police, attorneys and reporters could still use the site for free, though the state courts director would track each visitor's searches.

Needless to say FOI advocates say Schneider's proposal goes too far. 

Check it out.

Cheney's Role in the Valerie Plame Wilson Leak Exposed

Thanks to a FOIA lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ("CREW"), former Vice President Cheney's interview with the FBI in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation will see the light of day.  

The DOJ had sought to withhold the records, arguing that future White House officials would be unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement inquiries if the records were released.  U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan allowed the documents to be redacted for privileged communications.  

Get more here

Utah Meeting to Optimize State Government Won't be Public

The Utah Advisory Commission to Optimize State Government, a commission to streamline state government, won't be open to the public.   The Salt Lake Tribune requested to attend the meeting under open records laws, but the Commission denied the request, saying that keeping the meeting closed to the public will allow for more full and frank discussion.  

More here

FOI Case Asks Whether Petition Signatures are Public Records

The Shepherdstown Observer filed an appeal with the West Virginia Supreme Court over its FOI request for the more than 2,000 names of those who signed a zoning referendum petition.  A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled against the paper, keeping the citizens names private.  The West Virginia Supreme Court has not yet said whether it will hear the paper's appeal.

Get more information here.

Criminal Deportees Often Fly Solo on Commercial Airlines

Immigration and Customs Enforcement records and officials show illegal immigrants routinely fly on commercial airlines without an escort when being deported.  
The Houston Chronicle reports:

“This is an absolute risk to public safety,” said Chris Crane, ICE Council 118's vice president for Detention and Removal Operations.“And it's happening every day.”

Of the 27,899 illegal immigrants put on commercial airlines last year for deportation at a cost of nearly $44 million, more than 75 percent flew unescorted, according to ICE data.

Click here for more.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Clemson University Chopped Down 118 Acres of Trees; Conservation Groups Want to Know Why

A nature conservation group, Chattooga Conservancy, sent a FOI request to Clemson University on July 15 seeking records relating "to the past or future planned sale of timber on any properties owned or held by Clemson University."  According to a report from independentmail.com of Anderson, South Carolina, the University has not yet responded to the request.  Clemson attorneys say the request needs clarification as to the records sought and that the interest in the property "would seem to be beyond the published scope of the Conservancy's missions or goals."  Copies of the records will cost the organization $600.

The request came after Clemson clear cut 118 acres of timber on the Simpson Agricultural Research Farm.  Buzz Williams of the Chattooga Conservancy said the clear cutting included stands of trees 200 years old that protected animals and plants and prevented erosion.  Williams said the University did not properly evaluate the biological diversity of the land before chopping down the forest.  


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Open Records Advocates Seek to Remove Exemptions to FOIA

Tom Curley, president and chief executive of The Associated Press, testified on behalf of the Sunshine in Government Initiative at a hearing regarding the Office of Government Information Services.  He noted there is still a "secrecy reflex" in place at many federal agencies, despite the Obama's new standards for government openness.   

Curley cited more than 240 statutes that agencies may use for denying FOIA requests.

Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) have introduced legislation in the Senate that would require any such exemptions to be clearly stated, rather than be buried in the legislation.  The legislation has passed the Senate twice but has not yet been considered by the House.

Get more information here.  Read Curley's testimony here.

Connecticut Physicians Say FOI Undercuts the Peer Review Process

In a split decision, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that peer review privileges do not apply to public records requests filed by patients, stating the privilege only applies in the context of court actions.

The case stems from a former patient's request regarding a state hospital's decision not to renew a doctor's clinical privileges.  

Physicians say the ruling will have a chilling effect on the peer review process for state hospitals and could potentially have an adverse effect on private practices as well. 

In the decision, the majority court said the Legislature would need to fix any perceived flaws in the law.  

For more information, click this link from amednews.com.  

FOI Request Reveals Millions Spent on PR Campaign for Honolulu Rail

HonoluluAdvertiser.com reports $5.6 million have been spent on a public information campaign for a planned Honolulu rail project, with $3 million of the spending occurring since June 30, 2008.  Critics say the campaign went beyond public information to advocacy and lobbying efforts in advance of the November 2008 vote on the rail project.  The East Kapolei to Ala Moana rail project passed by a 51 percent to 46 percent margin.

The spending was disclosed in response to an August 27 FOI request by The Advertiser.   Get the full report here