A St. Louis circuit judge on Thursday heard arguments for and against opening files from the city Police Department's internal investigation into officers' misuse of 2006 World Series tickets seized from scalpers.More here.
Activist John Chasnoff filed a Sunshine Law suit in 2007 to get access to the investigative files; the Police Department has argued that the files should remain closed.
Earlier this month, Judge Philip Heagney ordered the department to provide Chasnoff with the initial complaint that sparked the investigation, saying it was clearly a public record under Missouri laws. After Thursday's hearing, Heagney said he did not know when he would issue a ruling on the investigative files. Both sides said they would appeal any decision against them.
Friday, January 30, 2009
Oregon Attorney General John Kroger is being urged to change the way state agencies respond to public information requests.More here.
University of Oregon economics professor Bill Harbaugh says the state's public records laws are "horrible," but can be fixed immediately.
In an op-ed published Friday on the left-leaning blog Blue Oregon, Harbaugh said just as U.S. President Barack Obama overhauled the federal Freedom of Information Act, Oregon's attorney general can similarly ease access to the state's public documents.
A proposed state law would allow sheriffs to release booking photographs and other basic information about inmates housed in county jails.More here.
House Bill 72 has been endorsed by the House Judiciary Committee and is awaiting consideration by the full House of Representatives.
As interpreted by most county attorneys, Wyoming law allows only the Department of Corrections, which operates state prisons, to publicly release information on inmates.
A citizen group that advocates for open government was honored Thursday for its efforts by Indiana's largest newspaper industry group.More here.
The Indiana Coalition for Open Government received the Frank O'Bannon Sunshine Award during the Hoosier State Press Association's annual meeting and government conference.
Bill Nangle, executive editor of The Times of Munster, lauded ICOG's efforts for the public's right to know when nominating the nonprofit organization for the honor.
“The Citizen Journalist’s Guide to Open Government,“ an extensive multimedia e-learning module to help new media makers understand how to obtain public records and get into public meetings, launched today on the Knight Citizen News Network (www.kcnn.org). The guide features a unique interactive map that tells citizens how they can locate open-government information on each of the 50 state Web sites. Easy-to-find information on either the Governor’s or State Attorney General’s Web site gets a thumbs-up ranking. Hard-to-find information earns a thumbs down. Users can:
- Obtain local, state and federal government records.
- Appeal when a records request is denied.
- Take steps if they are excluded from a meeting.
- Learn what’s allowed in their state.
- Understand access to court proceedings.
- Link to more information.
“As more and more everyday people cover local news and information, this guide gives them a unique road map to resources and information that traditional journalists use every day,“ says Jan Schaffer, director of J-Lab, which administers the Knight Citizen News Network (KCNN) with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. J-Lab is a center of American University’s School of Communication.More here.
According to reports, President Obama has selected Google (and former Yahoo) group product manager Katie Jacobs Stanton as the country's first "Director of Citizen Participation."More here.
Citizen Participation has been a key phrase in Obama's technological policy vernacular since the start of his campaign. From campaign literature: "Barack Obama will use the most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists and promote citizen participation in government decision-making."
Part of this approach included the development of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform (TIGR) Working Group, a team of more than 30 tech industry professionals set to "create a 21st century government that is more open and effective; leverages technology to grow the economy, create jobs, and solve our country's most pressing problems; respects the integrity of and renews our commitment to science; and catalyzes active citizenship and partnerships in shared governance with civil society institutions."
A coalition of Republicans and Democrats began a drive Thursday to strengthen South Dakota's laws on open government records and to require more information about state government contracts and finances be available on the Internet.More here.
The open-records legislation is patterned on Nebraska law and would presume that records are open unless they are specifically closed or exempted by law. South Dakota law currently says public records are only those that state law requires a government to keep.
Gov. Mike Rounds told South Dakota Newspaper Association members Thursday, however, that he prefers keeping the current approach.
Proposition 8 proponents' complaint that a California campaign-finance disclosure law has led to harassment of same-sex marriage opponents failed to sway a federal judge, who refused Thursday to throw out the law or shield donors' names.More here.
"If there ever needs to be sunshine on a particular issue, it's a ballot measure," U.S. District Judge Morrison England said after a one-hour hearing in his Sacramento courtroom.
A lawyer for the Prop. 8 campaign said it would ask an appeals court to modify or overturn the law, which requires disclosure of all contributors of $100 or more.
Charles N. Davis
Executive Director, Coalition
Columbia, MO -- Coalition awarded new grants at its December board meeting in Columbia, Missouri, and it's an impressive list of worthwhile activities and projects that will be funded.
Meeting for the first time at the brand new Reynold Journalism Institute at the in December of 2008, the NFOIC board awarded eight grants to eight coalitions for a total of $69,820 in this the first of two grant award periods....
Full release here:
Thursday, January 29, 2009
A judge on Wednesday denied the bulk of a Reno Gazette-Journal lawsuit seeking access to Gov. Jim Gibbons' e-mail records, holding that most of the correspondence is confidential under Nevada law.
Carson City District Judge Todd Russell also denied the newspaper's request for an itemized list of the e-mail records so it could independently assess whether the correspondence fell under the state's public records law.
Russell told Gibbons to release six of 104 emails that were reviewed in private by a court master to determine whether they were public. The court master, Dave Nielsen said the rest were personal, of a non-public "transitory nature" or privileged.
Chantell Taylor, director of the Colorado Ethics Watch, outlined three ways Colorado state and local government can show a commitment to transparency. These include implementing a policy for the retention of electronic records, adopting a fee waiver in the Colorado Open Records Act and setting maximum limits on fees charged for employee time spent retrieving public records.
As one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama issued an executive memorandum instructing members of his administration “to operate under principles of openness, transparency and of engaging citizens with their government.” There are a number of ways Colorado state and local government can follow suit and join the president in his commitment to an “unprecedented level of openness in government.”
To begin, the Colorado General Assembly should immediately adopt and implement a uniform policy for the members and their staff, setting minimum standards and guidelines for the retention of electronic records, including e-mail records in particular. Incredibly, there is currently no policy at all.
Instead, without any minimum requirements, members are encouraged to develop their own individual policies on retention of e-mails, make their own determinations as to what records are public, and regularly delete records that they think do not qualify as public.
A Freedom of Information Act Request was filed at the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Langley, Va., seeking all information related to the development of the Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer swimsuit and any "next generation" of swimsuits in the "design and testing pipeline phase" of development.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted in 1966 - Title 5 U.S.C. § 552 of the U.S. Government Law and provides that any person has the right of access to Federal Agency records, except to the extent that such records are protected from release by a FOIA exemption.
The FOIA Request was completed according to NASA standards, procedures and rules, and was submitted in writing late November 2008.
Dozens of secret documents justifying the Bush administration's spying and interrogation programs could see the light of day because of a new presidential directive.More here.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked the Obama administration on Wednesday to release Justice Department memos that provided the legal underpinning for harsh interrogations, eavesdropping and secret prisons.
For years, the Bush administration refused to release them, citing national security, attorney-client privilege and the need to protect the government's deliberative process.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
A legislative committee this afternoon amended a bill that relates to open records and the applications of university presidents.
The bill, with an amendment introduced by Sen. John Andrist, R-Crosby, would provide more openness than what the state Board of Higher Education had requested.
Andrist, who spent his career as owner and editor of a weekly newspaper in Crosby, told the Senate Education Committee he thought the original bill went too far.
The state House on Tuesday approved a bill it previously rejected that seeks to protect the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act from surreptitious tinkering.
In a 57-31 vote, the House approved House Bill 1050 by Rep. Dan Greenberg, R-Little Rock, which would require any new law creating an exemption to the FOIA to state clearly what records or meetings it is exempting.
The bill previously came before the House on Thursday and was narrowly defeated. After Tuesday’s vote, Greenberg told reporters that since Thursday he had contacted several House members individually and distributed a memo to all 100 House members offering a more thorough explanation of his bill.
The Times-Picayune is still waiting for FEMA to fill its FOIA request filed on Oct. 5, 2005. Mark Schleifstein requested expedited delivery of the records. He wrote, "The delayed disclosure of information necessary to improve future initial responses to hurricanes could threaten the life and physical safety of people living in the New Orleans area." If the loss of life isn't important enough to justify an expedited response, what is?
Last week, I got my annual letter from FEMA letting me know someone deep within the federal bureaucracy is "making an earnest and diligent effort" to fulfill the request for public records I filed on Oct. 5, 2005.
Among other things, I had asked for reports created by so-called "Rapid Needs Assessment Teams" that outlined the type and amount of help needed in communities affected by the storms -- food, water, housing, medical assistance. I sought to better understand the causes of FEMA's historically botched delivery of disaster recovery aid.
You may or may not be familiar with the intracacies of the federal Freedom of Information Act, but trust me on this: The public's right to access to government records lies at the core of what distinguishes freedom from tyranny. A government operating in secret is, by definition, doing citizens wrong.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
They require others to comply with open-government laws. But Missouri legislators have exempted themselves from having to turn over documents they prefer to keep secret.More here.
The Missouri House and Senate have interpreted the Sunshine Law not to apply to individual lawmakers - even though it does apply to the Legislature as a whole, legislative committees and legislative staff.
Whether that complies with the spirit of the Sunshine Law is questionable. Whether that is the correct interpretation of the law also is a matter of some dispute.
Monday, January 26, 2009
There are huge discrepancies for pass-fail rates of behind-the-wheel tests at Orange County Department of Motor Vehicles offices.
•At the Santa Ana DMV office, 112,276 people took the test over the last eight years and 39 percent failed.
•At the Fullerton DMV office, 42,216 of 115,074 drivers failed. That's 36-percent failure rate.
•Meanwhile, at the San Clemente office, an average of 23 percent of the 61,305 drivers who took the test over the past eight years failed. And, last year from January to October, just 17 percent of the drivers who took the test in San Clemente failed.
•Generally, the DMV offices in southern Orange County have lower failure rates. In Laguna Hills, an average of 25 percent have failed since 2000.
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter looks back at the history of White House secrecy as openness morphs from "geeky" to "hip." He calls for a mandate that all of the government's private sector contracts be made public, which he says will lead to competitors racing to "convince the government they can do the same things cheaper."
For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city." Those were the most important words President Obama spoke on his first full day in office. Obama then signed executive orders to shift the balance back toward openness in government. At least in theory, the burden of proof will move from those who would release information to those who would classify it. It's significant Obama led off this way. He went right after not just George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but an eternal bureaucratic impulse. Will Obama's emphasis on discipline and control eventually lead him to share that impulse? We'll see.
Thomas Jefferson argued that "information is the currency of democracy," and for generations peacetime America respected the principle. Believing, as Secretary of State Henry Stimson did, that "gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail," the nation chose not to even have an intelligence service until World War II. Then came the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and the National Security Act of 1947, which essentially said that a certain constantly expanding category of information was "born classified." That means no formal process for assessing if something should be secret or not—just an officious bureaucrat with a big stamp.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Two members of the Commission on Open Government — the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Hillsborough County attorney — vigorously oppose the panel's plan for ending stiff charges for providing copies of public records to citizens.More here.
But the head of the First Amendment Foundation, who chairs the nine-member panel that Gov. Charlie Crist created to review exemptions to Florida's "sunshine" statutes, said government agencies had ample opportunity to object to draft proposals set for final consideration next week. She said the Legislature must prevent "exorbitant" charges that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars for providing public information.
FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey and Renee Francis Lee, the county attorney in Tampa, wrote to JoAnn Carrin, director of the commission and head of Crist's office of open government, saying the cost of extensive record searches would be a hardship for already hard-pressed state, city and county governments. Bailey also said the open-government commission, on which he and Lee serve, did not take enough testimony from government agencies on the issue.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that autopsy records must be made available to the public despite privacy concerns. Judges, however, can withhold records based on "discretion and necessity."
The state Supreme Court ruled today that autopsy reports are public records.
In a 5-1 decision, the state's top court overturned a lower court ruling and wrote that under the state's Coroner's Act autopsy reports should be considered "official records and papers" and made available to the public.
The case stemmed from two newspapers, The Morning Call and Express-Times, who sued after Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim refused to provide a copy of an autopsy report of a police officer who had been shot and killed.
Is it possible to prove how much the Bush administration impeded the Freedom of Information Act? Put another way: just how hostile was it?More here.
Pretty darn hostile, a quick-and-dirty Suits & Sentences review shows. Consider: the Defense Department completely granted 61 percent of FOIA requests in Fiscal 1998. In Fiscal 2007, the Defense Department completely granted only 48 percent of FOIA requests. And the Pentagon wasn't alone. The Interior Department fully granted 64 percent of FOIA requests in 1998 but only 47 percent in 2007.
The invaluable annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies provide the numbers. Let's take a second, in honor of President Obama's newly declared commitment to FOIA, to delve a little deeper.
Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI) reintroduced their Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which would require that manufacturers and group purchasing organizations disclose all payments or transfers of value to physicians worth $100 or more.More here.
The revised bill includes language mandating disclosure of physician investments in and ownership of manufacturers, and it has sharper teeth. Manufacturers or group purchasing organizations that fail to report payments can be fined between $1,000 and $10,000 per infraction, up to a total fine of $150,000 per company per year, where failure to report is deemed an oversight. For “knowing failure to report,” the ceiling on total fines goes up to $1 million per company.
A Statehouse proposal could impose fines of up to $1,000 on government agencies -- or their individual employees -- that blatantly violate Indiana's public access laws.More here.
A Senate committee could vote next week on the legislation, which supporters say would put much-needed teeth into Indiana's open door law and public records rules.
The bill would allow judges to fine public agencies or agency workers who intentionally violate open meeting rules or public records laws, which are used by citizens and the media to obtain many government documents. An agency could pay for the fines from its budget, while a fine on an employee would come from the worker's wallet.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Lincoln County will cover more than $7,000 in attorney's fees following a case in which former and current county commissioners admitted to destroying public documents.More here.
Joann Hager, founder of Tri-County Animal Rescue, filed a lawsuit against the county when requests she made for documents were ignored for more than a year. Despite her victory, the outcome is not a total win-win, Hager said.
"That's my tax dollars being spent too," Hager said. "It was worth it if they change their procedures and public policies."
The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors on Wednesday passed a resolution to try to force other county officials to go through an internal request for county records instead of using the state public-records law.More here.
The move was in response to what the supervisors call "excessive" requests for information from the County Attorney's and Sheriff's offices, which the county claims are overly costly.
But the County Attorney's Office claims that the new policy is a way to skirt the state's public-records law.
A lawsuit seeking basic government documents has been filed in Federal District Court against the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) by the Conservation Council for Hawaii, KAHEA The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance (KAHEA), and the LOST FISH Coalition (collectively referred to as "plaintiffs").More here.
The lawsuit was filed to gain access to documents requested by the plaintiffs in a November 14, 2007, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted to WESPAC seeking basic budget, grant, and contract information. Tina Owens from the LOST FISH Coalition said, "In addition to shedding light on the long-hidden and most basic internal operations of this controversial federal entity, the documents may also shed light on how WESPAC funds may have been used in what appears to be various lobbying campaigns to influence state and federal legislative and executive branch decisions related to marine conservation in Western Pacific waters."
Miwa Tamanaha, KAHEA Executive Director noted, "Wise, sound, community-based management requires accountability and transparency. If there is nothing improper, then there should be nothing to hide. With the situation of our ocean resources so imperiled, it is ridiculous that citizen groups should have go to these lengths to get basic information about use of our public dollars."
While countless comedy fans spent the 1960s and ’70s poring over the rebellious routines of George Carlin, above, so too did J. Edgar Hoover, according to F.B.I. records released by the comedian’s family and reported by The Associated Press. Among the documents Carlin obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request before his death in June was an F.B.I. memo that noted his 1969 appearance on “The Jackie Gleason Show,” when he lampooned Hoover and the F.B.I. “His treatment was in very poor taste and it was obvious that he was using the prestige of the bureau and Mr. Hoover to enhance his performance,” the memo said, according to The A.P. The F.B.I. previously told The A.P. that it had no file on Carlin; an F.B.I. spokeswoman told The A.P. that she was looking into the apparent contradiction.More here.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Rich Rodriguez wasn't paid $6.6 million to coach the University of Michigan's football team last year, but that's how much he cost the school.
A Freedom of Information Act request by the Ann Arbor News revealed Michigan paid $4.1 million to cover part of Rodriguez's buyout and related taxes from his contract at West Virginia.
Rodriguez's salary and other compensation amounted to an additional $2.5 million. To give that $6.6 million figure perspective, the News noted that school president Mary Sue Coleman earns $553,500 annually and athletic director Bill Martin gets $380,368.
A bill that would make the workings of the Delaware General Assembly more transparent to the public has cleared a House committee.More here.
The bill, which subjects the legislature to the Freedom of Information Act, was released by the House administration committee on Wednesday. But lawmakers say amendments are likely, including one to prohibit public access to legislators' e-mails.
House Speaker Robert Gilligan said he hopes the bill will go to the House floor next week.
But it may have to clear the appropriations committee first because the legislature's controller general says at least one full-time staffer, at a cost of more than $61,000 a year, would be needed to handle FOIA requests.
The state of Iowa would have to launch a searchable Web site available to the public to catalog how tax dollars are spent under a bill proposed Wednesday in the Iowa Legislature.More here.
Republican supporters in both houses of the Legislature said during a news conference at the Statehouse that such a Web site would allow for greater transparency in state government by turning all of Iowa’s citizens into budget watchdogs.
They likened keeping track of taxpayer dollars in Iowa to searching through a maze, but they said the proposed Web site would streamline the process.
The excuses for demanding to know which legislator is asking questions? Well, for one, the governor claims this allows the staff to tailor the information provided to different lawmakers, adding more background for new legislators. He's also worried that useless requests will rob his staff of valuable time.
When state Sen. Gene Abdallah wanted to know how many aircraft the state owns, he figured it would be easy to get the information.More here.
So last month, the Sioux Falls Republican made a request through the Legislative Research Council - the state's research arm for lawmakers.
The LRC had a list of aircraft, but to get details about those planes - their conditions and estimated values - a researcher had to ask officials in Gov. Rounds' administration.
More of the Washington Post story here.
For additional coverage, see:
- Obama promises a more openness, Chicago Sun-Times: "Hot damn! This is astondishing. And wonderful," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "You know there's a new sheriff in town."
- Obama orders could open records, Washington Post: Obama's new stance on open records could mean the disclosure of records that have been off limits to the public and reporters, such as details on toxic chemical spills and the drugs administered to Guantanamo Bay prisoners. However, Obama's memos don't discuss the labeling of documents as "controlled unclassified information."
- On day one, Obama overturns era of White House secrecy, Editor & Publisher: Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative said: “Yesterday’s policy of 'When in doubt, leave it out,' today became, 'When it doubt, let it out.' And this policy will help keep the public informed in our technology-driven, connected society. On open government, the dawn is breaking."
- President Obama's open government imperatives must trickle down to cities, MediaShift Idea Lab: Blogger Daniel X. O'Neil wrote: "To the mayors of every city in the United States, the message is clear: Nearly 67,000,000 people voted for Barack Obama on Election Day. Many of them are voting in your city, too. More than a million people went outside in Washington, DC to hear and see this President get inaugurated. Today, hundreds of thousands of them returned home to your cities, your neighborhoods, your tax bases. There's no reason to expect less of you than we've gotten from our President. Change is coming."
- Opening government on day one, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: "That this message was issued on Day One is a huge step toward opening access to the federal government. And it is crucial that this message came from the very top. However, the public will need to be no less diligent in utilizing the laws to request information and continuing to hold this new administration accountable just as any other."
To download the memo, click here.
Read more on the Collaboration of Government Secrecy Web site here.
The Associated Press story is below:
In an attempt to deliver on pledges of a transparent government, Obama said he would change the way the federal government interprets the. He said he was directing agencies that vet requests for information to err on the side of making information public — not to look for reasons to legally withhold it — an alteration to the traditional standard of evaluation.
Just because ahas the legal power to keep information private does not mean that it should, Obama said. Reporters and public-interest groups often make use of the law to explore how and why government decisions were made; they are often stymied as agencies claim legal exemptions to the law.
"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," Obama said.
He said the orders he was issuing Wednesday will not "make government as honest and transparent as it needs to be" nor go as far as he would like.
"But these historic measures do mark the beginning of a new era of openness in our country," Obama said. "And I will, I hope, do something to make government trustworthy in the eyes of the American people, in the days and weeks, months and years to come."
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The bill would:
- Tighten the guidelines for when public meetings may be closed for potential litigation discussions.
- Require public comment periods and five business days notice (instead of 24 hours) for government bodies to meet on certain issues.
- Force governmental bodies to provide electronic versions of public records that are maintained electronically, which could eliminate copying costs for those requesting records.
- Provide more openness concerning proceedings of the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Some state lawmakers are seeking to strengthen Missouri's open-government law by giving the public more advanced notice of meetings on hot-button local issues such as taxes, zoning and eminent domain.More here.
The legislation also would make public more of the workings of the Missouri Ethics Commission, which receives and reviews campaign finance complaints against politicians.
Those involved in defending and promoting Missouri's Sunshine Law said the legislation hits many of the areas that are causing problems. However, it stops short of the broader overhaul they argue is necessary, but probably wouldn't clear the Missouri General Assembly.
United States President Barack Obama announced today that his administration will roll back the secrecy that has ruled during the Bush Administration and implement a new era of government openness and transparency.
Referring to the Freedom of Information Act as one of the most important tools of oversight the nation possesses, Obama called on all government agencies to err on the side of openness and release information whenever possible, which directly contradicts orders by the previous administration to look for reasons to withhold information whenever possible. Just because you have the legal right to withhold information, doesn't mean you should, Obama said at a White House press conference and staff swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday.
"For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city," he said.
Obama also said that any time the administration feels the need to withhold information about his presidency or a past presidency, it will consult legal counsel to ensure its decision is on solid ground."Information will not be withheld just because I say so," he said. "It will be withheld because a separate authority believes it is well-founded in the Constitution."
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A federal judge ruled Monday that (now former) Vice President Dick Cheney has broad discretion in determining what records created during his eight-year tenure must be preserved.More here.
Absent any evidence that Cheney's office is failing to safeguard records, it is up to the vice president to determine how he deals with material, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled.
"Congress drastically limited the scope of outside inquiries related to the vice president's handling of his own records during his term in office," the judge said in a 63-page opinion.
The Presidential Records Act "provides only narrow areas of oversight," the ruling added.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
The state Supreme Court has ruled that higher penalties are in order for King County in a long-running public records case dating to 1997 and dealing with the $300 million Seahawks football stadium that went successfully to a public vote.
Justice Richard Sanders wrote the majority opinion (click here) today. It was signed by three other justices including Justice Mary Fairhurst, Charles Johnson and James Johnson.
The split decision included a dissent by Justice Susan Owens that was also signed by Justice Barbara Madsen and Justice Pro Tem Karen Seinfield (in place of Justice Debra Stephens). Chief Justice Gerry Alexander also penned a dissent in part. Click here for links to all five opinions released in the case today, including the majority, one dissent, two concurrences and one split concurrence/dissent.
The effect of the ruling is to send the case of Armen Yousoufian vs. the office of King County Executive Ron Sims back to the trial court for imposition of higher fines than the $15 per day previously awarded – on grounds that King County’s four-year violation of disclosure law deserves higher sanctions. (The $15 in daily fine were higher than an initial court finding of $5 per day, but Yousoufian, a businessman, had appealed previously to the Supreme Court, which agreed.)
The fines on appeal amounted to $123,780, so by moving the per-day fines to the middle or upper end of the $5 to $100 per day range allowed under the law for a four-year failure to comply with law could conceivably quadruple the sanctions, if not increase them even more.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Lasantha Wikramatunga, the Sri Lankan editor who was killed last week, knew it was going to happen and wrote an obituary/editorial before he died. It was published by his newpaper (Sunday Leader) Jan 11.
Read the whole thing, every word, here.
Members of a newly formed government watchdog group say they're looking forward to pushing for release of public information around Wyoming.
The Wyoming Coalition for Open Government includes the Wyoming Press Association as well as many individual newspapers and other groups. The coalition held a press conference Thursday to introduce itself at the Wyoming state Capitol.
The group announced a "First Amendment Hero" award for Casper lawyer Michael Krampner. He was recognized for advising media on how to gain release of public information.
The group also announced a "Black Hole" award for Cheyenne's Building Department Board of Appeals. The Wyoming Tribune Eagle newspaper has sued the board claiming it violated public meeting laws when it allegedly deliberated behind closed doors about whether to allow demolition of 6 old houses in a city historic district.More here. And here.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
You may agree with that bold statement once you fathom the fine print about TARP and the $700 billion bailout plan, sold to the public as necessary to save the U.S. economy and with it, homes and jobs.
This is a story largely overlooked by the national media, which I monitor not only as director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, but also as an editor for the journalism social network, NewsTrust.net.
That latter activity has provided me with a new outlook on the state of journalism and the economy because I read dozens of newspapers in the course of a week, getting a global perspective on how news events affect us locally.
In a Dec. 22 report titled “Where’d the Bailout Money Go? Shhhh, It’s a Secret,” Matt Apuzzo of The Associated Press investigated 21 banks receiving $1 billion or more each of taxpayer funds, disclosing that bank officers refused to supply any answers.
Banks operating in Iowa also have applied for TARP funds. But as Tribune reporter Zientara learned, even Tom Gronstal, superintendent of the Iowa Division of Banking, would not disclose the identities of those 26 Iowa chartered banks, citing confidentiality rules.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The three-judge Court of Appeals panel's majority opinion rejected a dissenting judge's argument that a Phoenix police officer was entitled to "metadata" for notes written by a supervisor of the officer.
Metadata is data embedded in documents to track authors, when something was saved and what changes were made. Metadata isn't visible when a document is printed on paper nor does it appear on screen in normal settings.
The officer, David Lake, said he wanted the notes' metadata to see if the supervisor had backdated the notes to prior to Lake being demoted.
With Bush administration White House aides on their way out the door in coming days, a federal judge this morning ordered the president's executive office to undertake a comprehensive search for millions of senior appointees' e-mails that have been inaccessible and possibly missing since 2005.
The order reflects a continuing effort by outside groups to ensure that the White House transfers historically significant materials to the National Archives on or before next Tuesday, as required by federal law. District Court Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. demanded that officials search computer workstations, preserve thumb drives and examine e-mail archives created or retained by White House employees from 2003 to 2005, the period in which a records gap exists.
More here.An update: the administration now says it has found the missing e-mails, albeit at a cost of $10 million.
Computer software glitches have exposed some patients at Veterans Affairs health centers to medical errors, including some in Wisconsin.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act say patients were given incorrect doses of drugs, had treatments delayed and sometimes were given prolonged infusions of drugs such as heparin, which can be life-threatening in excessive doses.
There's no evidence any patients were harmed. But, the issue is more pressing as the federal government begins promoting universal use of electronic medical records.
Nearly one-third of the VA's 153 medical centers reported seeing some kind of glitch, although the VA said that number could be higher since some facilities may not have filed reports.More here. And here.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month rejected the news organization's request for any commutation petitions filed by Lindh, who is serving 20 years in prison for helping terrorists. The court agreed with a lower court that Lindh's privacy interests outweigh any public interest served by releasing the information.
The AP asked that the original panel reconsider its finding or that the full appeals court hear its Freedom of Information Act request. It said the petition was "a firsthand account of government actions and a critique of their fairness, the release of which would illuminate past government conduct."
The overlap of names on former President Bill Clinton's foundation donor list and business interests whose issues she championed raises new questions about potential ethics conflicts between her official actions and her husband's fundraising. The AP obtained three of the senator's government letters under the Freedom of Information Act.
Clinton was to begin her confirmation hearing Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Under an agreement with President-elect Barack Obama, Bill Clinton recently released the names of donors to his foundation, a nonprofit that has raised at least $492 million — including millions from foreign governments — to fund his library in Little Rock, Ark., and charitable efforts worldwide on such issues as AIDS, poverty and climate change.
The letters and donations involve pharmaceutical companies and telecommunications and energy interests. An aide to the senator said she made no secret of her involvement in many of the issues. Bill Clinton's foundation declined to say when it received the donations or precisely how much was contributed.
The problem of how to classify electronic messages has broader ramifications. Private firms sued in civil actions must produce relevant documents--including records of emails and text messages--while they do not have to produce transcripts of face-to-face and telephone conversations, for the simple reason that the latter leave no record. But at least in the civil litigation context, the law in principle treats these categories the same. Absent a valid privilege, if asked about a relevant conversation that produced no permanent record, a party or party's agent must divulge the substance of that conversation, at least to the best of his ability to remember. Of course, this regime makes it easier for a bad actor to cover up purely oral conversations than to cover up email and other written communications, but for a law-abiding firm, there is no ex ante distortion of incentives for using various modes of communicating.This much is certain: the law surrounding electronic communication is likely not going to stay the same...
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Days after officials announced plans to censor personal information from Phoenix police reports, clerks redacted birth dates and addresses from some public documents while releasing suspects' Social Security numbers on others.
Other reports showed how a new records policy unveiled last week could limit the potential for identity theft by erasing precise addresses, telephone numbers and other information from the written public record.Phoenix City Manager Frank Fairbanks said the city began restricting public documents, at the request of city attorneys, to comply with an Arizona law designed to protect residents' personal information. Officials will also consider redacting personal information from other public records, such as notices of neighborhood code-enforcement violations.
House Bill 1, sponsored by House Speaker-elect Rep. Robert F. Gilligan, D-Sherwood Park, would place the General Assembly under the state’s Freedom of Information Act as a public body, subjecting the legislature to the state’s open meeting laws.
Under HB 1, the public would be granted access to General Assembly meetings, except for party caucuses. The public also would have access to the General Assembly’s records. Current exceptions in the state FOIA law for public bodies and records would apply to the legislature.
Many Canadian police forces obstinately refuse to report on taser stun gun usage, despite an apology from RCMP Commissioner William Elliott last year for excessive secrecy, and mounting public controversy surrounding the deaths of taser victims.
This is among the findings of a new audit by the Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA) of freedom of information regimes across Canada, released today. The annual exercise tests how readily officials disclose information that should be publicly available on request.
The full report is here, along with extensive coverage and a release.
Friday, January 09, 2009
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth concluded that the deletions took place before October 2004 when the Secret Service transferred large numbers of entry and exit logs to the White House and then deleted copies of them.
The deletions ceased after the archivist to the United States instructed the Secret Service to stop the practice and after various private organizations went to court in an effort to gain access to the logs, according to papers filed in the case. The deletions go back at least as far as 2001, the government's papers added, the year President George W. Bush took office.
Lamberth's ruling brushed aside the government's argument that revealing Secret Service logs would impede the president's ability to perform his constitutional duties.
The court said that the likelihood of harm is not great enough to justify curtailing the public disclosure goals of the Freedom of Information Act.
While the case was a setback for the Bush White House, the effect of the claim of a presidential communications privilege succeeded in dragging out the lawsuit until the end of the Bush administration.
A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, asked for the records in 2006 to determine whether nine conservative religious leaders visited the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence. A separate lawsuit by CREW seeks any Secret Service logs for White House visits by a Texas businessman who allegedly tried to sell access to administration officials in exchange for contributions to Bush's presidential library fund.
The Riverfront Times recounts the saga of scalped World Series tickets:
John Chasnoff has won a small but significant victory in his spat with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department over the World Series ticket scandal.
Chasnoff got word Tuesday that St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Philip Heagney has ordered police to make public the report that initiated investigations into officers' misuse of baseball tickets seized from scalpers during the 2006 baseball championship.
"I'm happy with this first step and optimistic about the next one," says Chasnoff, a St. Louis County resident (the RFT's Best Gadfly in 2008), who filed his lawsuit against the department last year.
Seems sunshine won a round, but many more to go here...
Thursday, January 08, 2009
As one of the most secretive presidential administrations in history gets ready to close up shop, it's closing a few more things -- records. Over the past few months, some federal agencies have issued rules that would eliminate public disclosure of information -- or, in some cases, make it more difficult for requesters to get information.
While the federal Freedom of Information Act regulates what government information may be withheld from the public, internal rules determine how that law is carried out at the agency level. Those rules also may restrict access to information.
The ballot measure committee Protectmarriage.com and the National Organization for Marriage have asked a federal court to force California to remove campaign donor records from public view (expunge them completely, actually) and declare that the state's campaign disclosure law -- insomuch as it makes them file reports after the election is over and allows/requires those reports be publicly available after the election -- violates the First Amendment.
The groups said that "there is a reasonable probability that the Act's compelled disclosure requirements will result in threats, harassment, and reprisals, similar to those already suffered by supporters of Proposition 8."
So, if I get this, the folks who sponsored Prop 8 now want the fact that they supported it hidden? What chicanery! And think of the groups that could support all sorts of controversial and divisive legislation, if they know that after the fact they can turn to the courts for a bit of secrecy?
Phoenix police will begin withholding certain basic information on both victims and criminal suspects in reports released to the public, saying it's a way of curbing identity theft.
Personal identifying information such as names of injured victims, birth dates of criminals and the addresses where crimes are committed will be redacted completely from the written public record in some cases, officials said Wednesday.City attorneys who advised the Police Department on the policy shift said the idea is to balance Arizona public-records law with a newer state statute that cites the government's obligation to secure residents from identity poachers.
Police public-information officers said they will immediately begin identifying criminal suspects by name, age and race only - not by date of birth, even if they are booked into jail. Victims' dates of birth also would be withheld.
Future donations to presidential libraries would have to be publicly disclosed, the House decided Wednesday.
The library vote and a separate one making it more difficult for former presidents to prevent documents from entering the public domain kicked off a new session of Congress. Majority Democrats have joined with President-elect Barack Obama in promising to make government operations more transparent. Both bills now go to the Senate.
The library measure would require that groups raising funds for presidential libraries make disclosures four times a year of all donations of $200 or more.
The House has made several attempts this decade to move the legislation. Republicans promoted it at the end of the Clinton administration after it was revealed that Clinton's library foundation received a large contribution from the ex-wife of financier Marc Rich. Rich fled the country after being convicted of evading $40 million in taxes and then received a presidential pardon on the last day Clinton was in office.
The documents bill would overturn an executive order issued by Bush in November 2001. It gave presidents and former presidents the ability to delay public release of records for years. The order also states that only presidents and former presidents, not former vice presidents or the descendants of presidents, can assert privilege over records.
The vote on the documents bill, H.R. 35, was 359-58. The vote on the libraries bill, H.R. 36, was 388-31.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
"That's a hit to journalism in Montana, and nationwide, frankly," said David Cuillier, FOI chairman with the national Society of Professional Journalists. "He's been influential in opening up government nationwide."
Bob Hermes, general manager of KPAX, said the state of the economy led the station to drop Marquand's position as special projects coordinator. Marquand, who also was chairman of the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline, was laid off Friday.
Hermes said he did not anticipate other layoffs at KPAX.
Marquand said he has seen other veteran reporters lose their jobs to cost-cutting.
"I can't say it was a huge shock," he said. "But it was unexpected and I was not prepared for it on Friday."
On Monday, Marquand said he was seeking new opportunities in journalism or possibly in the academic world.
"I think I bring a certain group of skills that would be useful in a number of areas," Marquand said.
Marquand began his career at KPAX in 1978.
Sorry for the diversion. And it feels kind of nice to be back on Blogger, truth be told....