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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Public information indictments thrown out

from Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas:
A state district judge threw out the indictment against Texas State Jail Standards Commission Executive Director Adan Munoz, saying wording in the criminal charge for allegedly releasing confidential information was “too vague.” It is unclear what action, if any, local prosecutors might take in moving forward for a possible new indictment or public apology. Munoz had been accused of improperly releasing information to two Corpus Christi reporters in response to a Texas Public Information Act request.
Read more here.

NFOIC awards Knight FOI Fund litigation grant in New York public records suit

from NFOIC.org:
COLUMBIA, Mo. (September 28, 2010)—A news website publisher in upstate New York and a citizen open government activist have been awarded a litigation grant from the Knight FOI Fund to press a legal action against a volunteer fire company.

According to a complaint filed in the Warren County (NY) Supreme Court, the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company continues to insist it is not subject to New York state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and Open Meetings Law (OML), despite repeated requests for records and meeting access by the plaintiffs in the case, and an advisory opinion issued in June by the state’s Freedom of Information Committee.

The $2,000 litigation grant was announced by the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), which administers the Fund that was created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The grant was the first awarded for a New York case since the Fund was established in January.
Read more here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

SEC secrecy repeal sent to Obama

from Project On Government Oversight:
The House voted Sept. 23 to repeal Section 929I of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which had provided the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with sweeping new powers to hide its records from public scrutiny. The House’s passage of S. 3717 comes just one day after the Senate voted unanimously to strike the troubling secrecy measure, and is the first legislative correction to the new financial regulatory overhaul law.

[...]

Section 929I would have given the SEC the blanket authority to block the release of records in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and to withhold records in response to subpoenas filed by third-party civil litigants, even if such records were needed to expose corruption or incompetence at the agency. S. 3717 repeals these overly broad and unnecessary secrecy measures, and clarifies that an existing FOIA exemption, Exemption 8, will protect against the release of confidential information contained in the records of any entity that falls under the SEC’s regulatory authority.
Read more here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

NFOIC, partners, urge House to pass Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act

from NFOIC.org:
On behalf of the undersigned organizations concerned with government accountability and transparency, we are writing in support of H.R. 6026, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. H.R. 6026 was introduced by a member of the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, Representative Driehaus (D-OH), and is cosponsored by the Chair of the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, Representative Clay (D-MO) and the Committee Chair, Representative Towns (D-NY).

H.R. 6026 requires that any report required by statute to be issued to Congress and releasable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) be posted on a website managed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The reports would be available no later than 30 days after their transmission to Congress, and would be searchable by a number of categories.
Read more here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bell (Ca.) arrests illustrate importance of open records

opinion, from Hawaii Reporter:
When Bell city officials started raking in obscene salary amounts, it’s a safe bet that they never considered the California Public Records Act. ... Eight Bell officials were arrested Sept. 21 for the misappropriation of $5.5 million. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley called the Bell scandal “corruption on steroids.”

[...]

The California Public Records Act, which mirrors the federal Freedom of Information Act, requires public officials to disclose salaries, benefits and expenditures to the public. Political candidates must make similar disclosures. By law, records must be released within 10 working days barring extenuating circumstances.
Read more here.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cameron County (Tx.) District Attorney’s Office declines to pursue San Benito FOI issue

from The Brownsville Herald:
The Cameron County District Attorney’s Office has refused to prosecute a case filed by the Valley Morning Star accusing San Benito officials of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, officials said last week.

The Star filed the complaint in April accusing city commissioners of failing to disclose the nature of a discussion they held in a closed meeting on April 12.

The newspaper also accused the city of illegally posting the meeting’s agenda, which failed to state the nature of the discussion commissioners planned to hold in executive session.

“The District Attorney’s Office received this case and reviewed it,” Assistant District Attorney Charles Mattingly said in an e-mail. “After evaluation, it was determined that the case was without merit. Therefore, the DA’s Office declined to prosecute.”

[...]

The decision riled Joel White, an Austin attorney with the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation.

“I saw it as a blatant violation of the Open Meetings Act,” White said in an interview. “I’m not surprised that the DA chose not to prosecute. DAs like to work on violent crimes and they don’t like to prosecute elected officials.”
Read more here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

NFOIC Knight FOI Fund supports victorious transparency case involving California pension fund investments

from NFOIC
COLUMBIA, Mo. – A California judge, as a result of litigation backed by the Knight FOI Fund, has ordered the state’s pension fund to release records about a $100 million real estate investment loss.

Judge Charlotte W. Woolard of the San Franicsco Superior Court, in a six-page writ signed on Tuesday, September 14, ordered the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) to release records regarding its investment in Page Mill Properties, a controversial East Palo Alto low-income housing development. (You can read the ruling here (312 KB).

CalPERS, the largest public pension fund in the country, lost all of its $100 million stake in the development, but refused to disclose records regarding its investment or the business arrangement surrounding it.

The First Amendment Coalition (FAC), a California-based member organization of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), sued CalPERS in July and was awarded a $3,200 Knight Fund grant by NFOIC to help with its legal expenses in that suit.
Read the rest here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

EPIC files FOIA suit for documents regarding Google/NSA partnership

from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC):
EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the National Security Agency in the United States District Court in the District of Columbia. The agency failed to respond to EPIC's FOIA request for documents about an "Information Assurance" partnership with Google. EPIC previously appealed to the agency to comply with its legal duty to produce the documents, but he agency failed to respond. EPIC is also seeking the Presidential Directive that grants the NSA authority to conduct electronic surveillance in the United States.
Read the rest here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Columbia (Mo.) Police Review Board suggests increase in police's audio and visual recording

from the Columbia Missourian:
COLUMBIA — The Citizens Police Review Board decided Wednesday night that Columbia police officers should keep their cameras rolling.

Jennifer Bukowsky, an attorney with the Boone County Public Defender’s office, presented a proposal to the board calling for police officers to use cameras in their squad cars more often and to keep audio and video records longer.

“Taxpayers have already paid for them, and they are already installed,” Bukowsky said of the cameras. “They are with them everywhere they go.”
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

NFOIC announces Fall 2010 grant applications now being accepted

from NFOIC.org:
National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) member organizations interested in funding for projects in their states must submit applications by Friday Oct. 8 to be considered for a fall grant award.

This application deadline applies only to project and sustainability grants to support and enhance state coalition and member organization work. Applications for Knight FOI Fund grants to defray costs, fees and expenses associated with legal actions are reviewed and screened separately throughout the year, and have no set deadline.

The NFOIC guidelines are intended to give broad discretion and flexibility to state freedom of information groups in defining their needs and pursuing projects that aid their growth and further public access to government records and meetings. Projects that heighten awareness and educate the public regarding access issues are particularly encouraged.

Approval and matching support requirements, however, are at the discretion of the NFOIC Grants Committee and NFOIC Board. State groups should expect that any grant in excess of $5,000 will have a match requirement.
You can find the grant guidelines and a link to the grant application form at http://www.nfoic.org/grants.

2010 Secrecy Report Card Released

from OpenTheGovernment.org:
On Tuesday, September 7, OpenTheGovernment.org released the 2010 Secrecy Report Card 2010 Secrecy Report Card, a quantitative report on indicators of government secrecy. The report chronicles a continued decrease in most indicators of secrecy since the end of the Bush Administration and growing backlogs in the declassification system as old secrets move through the system. The report covers the first 9 months of President Obama's Administration.

According to Patrice McDermott, Director of OpenTheGovernment.org, "The 2008 elections were largely seen as a referendum on the extreme secrecy of the last Administration. On his first full day in office, President Obama pledged his Administration would be the most open, transparent and accountable in history. The Secrecy Report Card helps the public monitor the progress, or lack thereof, the President makes toward that goal."
Visit OpenTheGovernment.org for more.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Judge: CSU violated state law in Palin case

from the California Chronicle:
SACRAMENTO – Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne has ruled that California State University Stanislaus violated the California Public Records Act when they refused to disclose the contract that brought Sarah Palin to the campus in June. The judge ordered CSU Stanislaus to release the speaking contract and also awarded payment of attorney fees to the prevailing party – the non-partisan, non-profit, open government organization Californians Aware (CalAware).

Despite being fully staffed by taxpayer-funded employees, the foundation and the university refused to disclose her compensation for the gala, which was not open to students but only well-heeled donors.

After Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and CalAware were denied a public records request for the Palin contract and any correspondence regarding the visit, emails by administrators were uncovered and students found pages 4 through 9 of the Palin contract in the administration´s Dumpster. ... It has since been reported that Palin received $75,000 plus expenses to speak.
Read the rest here.