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, March 24, 2011

Sunshine Week news from the states

Sunshine Week Shame: 10 Ways the Government Is Opaque

from Wired.com

As Sunshine Week sets, it's a good time to take a quick inventory of the federal government's ongoing failures of transparency. ...

District spends more than $30,000 on out-of-district travel this year

from The Kansan.com

NEWTON — Editor’s note: This story is part of the Kansan’s coverage for Sunshine Week, which is an event that encourages open government.

Creve Coeur council member wins Sunshine Hero award

from stltoday.com

The Missouri Sunshine Coalition has honored Jeanne Rhoades, a Creve Coeur City Council member, for efforts that promote open records and transparency in government.   

POGO at Sunshine Week Hearing: Bring FOIA Out of the Dark Ages

By Bryan Rahija

In case you missed it amid all the other open gov hullabaloo, late last week POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury shared POGO's views on the state of government openness as a panelist on a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing. You can view footage of her testimony below (starts at the 35:59 mark).

Jonathan Turley, Submitted By Lawrence Rafferty, (rafflaw), Guest Blogger

It wasn’t discussed much in the Corporate Mass Media, but this past week was dubbed, Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week was supposed to celebrate “open Government practices”. I for one, wasn’t convinced that our government had any “open” practices.

Sunshine Week


There have been times in recent years when the Sunshine Law, the name for the open records law in Missouri, has been used purely for political purposes. At both the state and local levels, the Sunshine Law has been used irresponsibly by a few politicians and some media to make life difficult for political foes, usually by skewing context. That's unfortunate.

SUNSHINE WEEK: Digital records outpace state law

Clarksville Leaf Chronicle

The information age has made more government documents available to the public than ever before, but experts say open records laws themselves are behind the times.

Sunshine Week ends – but principle doesn’t

Nashua Telegraph

Sunshine Week is now over – at least officially.

No more stories with the logo depicting the sun peeking out from behind the capitol dome that proclaims: “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know.”

Sunshine Week celebrates openness in government

Joplin Globe

News organizations and watchdog groups across the country are wrapping up Sunshine Week, an initiative designed to highlight the importance of open government. The laws, commonly called sunshine laws, vary among states, but each generally requires that ...

Battles Over Open Government Cast Shadow on 'Sunshine Week'

AOL News

In the middle of Sunshine Week promoting transparency in government, open-government advocates say the apparent demotion of a high-level Department of Homeland Security employee for whistle-blowing is particularly dark. "Our government is sending the ...

Sunshine week coinciding with related court cases

Wisconsin Radio Network

It's been an action packed time for open government during Sunshine Week. Governor Walker's office this week settled a lawsuit brought forth by the Wisconsin Associated Press and Madison weekly newspaper, the Isthmus. ...

Sunshine Week promotes openness in government

Mountain Mail Newspaper

Salidan John Graham has been working to promote open dialogue between citizens and government since about a year ago, when he became board president of Chaffee Citizens for Sustainability. ...

Let the Sunshine In | Peer to Peer Review

Library Journal

It's Sunshine Week, the annual reminder that open government is good for democracy, that information is important, that freedom is protected when people are vigilant about their right to know what our government is up to. Started in 2002 by a Florida ...

Transparency in government: Is it a reality?

Legal Talk Network

Attorneys and co-hosts Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams welcome Mark Rumold, the Open Government Legal Fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Kenneth Bunting, Executive Director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, to take a look inside Sunshine Week. Mark and Ken discuss which states have made the most strides for transparency, if technological advances are helping governments be more transparent and why it is important for government to stay transparent.

MP3 Link: http://websrvr82il.audiovideoweb.com/ny60web16519/LTN/C2C/C2C_031611_SunshineWeek.mp3

Let the Sun Shine in Berkeley Too

The Berkeley Daily Planet

This week is Sunshine Week all over the United States. What, you may ask, is Sunshine Week? It’s sponsored by American Society of Newspaper Editors, joined by the National Freedom of Information Coalition, California’s First Amendment Coalition and many other groups.

Why government's doors must be open

By Ken Paulson, President, First Amendment Center

This is Sunshine Week, a national effort organized by the American Society of News Editors, the news media and open-government advocates. It's an annual reminder of the importance of the free flow of information in a democracy. Taxpayers hire public employees to serve and protect, not to keep secrets from them.

N.C. open records requests can drag on

BY FRED CLASEN-KELLY, Charlotte Observer

Under North Carolina's open records laws, anyone who wants government documents is supposed to get them as soon as possible. But agencies can take weeks, months or even longer to produce public information. The delays often force citizens to rely on persistence or simply luck. Joann Hager, a Lincoln County animal rights activist, has tested the statutes--and two times, she says, they failed her.

Sunshine Week highlights threats to open government

by Frank Gibson, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

Sunshine Week, which kicked off Sunday, started almost a decade ago when 150 proposals in the Florida legislature threatened to turn the Sunshine State's model "government in the sunshine" law into Swiss cheese. Newspapers mounted "Sunshine Sunday" -- a campaign reminding Floridians of the high level of openness they enjoyed, highlighting the benefits of government transparency and detailing potential consequences of the proposals. Only a few passed.

Sunshine Week: Optimism through the Clouds

by The Sunlight Foundation

After launching Sunshine Week with yesterday's successful Advisory Committee on Transparency event, it's a good time to reflect on positive transparency developments around the country (as opposed to yesterday's disheartening news).

Storm clouds are gathering over Sunshine Week

by Penny Lee, in The Hill

It is hard to disagree with the administration's philosophy of promoting open government and freedom of information. However, actions speak louder than words, and it is clear that there are a number of dark and stormy clouds hovering over Sunshine Week.

Mo. State Auditor Schweich recognizes Sunshine Week


JEFFERSON CITY – State Auditor Tom Schweich  today promoted increased transparency in government in recognition of March 13-19, 2011 as Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote freedom of information in local, state and federal government. The initiative was launched by the American Society of News Editors in 2005.

State auditor will monitor responses to public record requests

By Marc Kovac, news@vindy.com

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said he will begin monitoring state and local agencies’ responses to public records’ requests as part of his office’s annual check of financial books.

Washington State Woman Wins Sunshine Week Contest

Editor & Publisher

The announcement of the Local Heroes kicks off Sunshine Week, which began yesterday. Howell will accept her award at the ASNE Convention, April 6-9, at the San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina. Howell, a former Stevenson school board member, got involved ...

Sunshine Week: Do Open Government Laws Still Matter in the Era of WikiLeaks?

Electronic Frontier Foundation

March 14-18, 2011 is “Sunshine Week”—a week to focus on the importance of open government and how we can ensure accountability for our leaders at the federal, state and local levels.

Editorial: How to fix a hole in Michigan's Freedom of Information Act

MLive.com, By The Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board

Following is one of a series of Press editorials during Sunshine Week, established by the American Society of News Editors to celebrate and safeguard open and transparent government. A Michigan Court of Appeals ...

Susy Schultz: It's a week to think about doing government business in the sunshine

Kankakee Daily Journal

Sunshine Week is to remind people what it should look like when government is open, transparent and respects the freedom of information that really equates to the public's right to know what the government it funds is doing with that money. ...

Records become public for sunshine week

A & T Register

These records not only include official reports and minutes of meetings, but also items like hand-written notes, phone messages, e-mails, databases, spreadsheets – nearly anything created or received by a government agency while conducting the public's ...

Editorial: Sunshine Week Governor less than open with last-minute release

Naples Daily News

Amid this Sunshine Week, which observes the importance of Florida's open records and open meetings laws, the leadership style of Gov. Rick Scott invites attention. Only a short time before a meeting with the Cabinet the other day, Scott passed out ...

Sunshine Week: Optimism through the Clouds - Sunlight Foundation

By Ellen Miller

After launching Sunshine Week with yesterday's successful Advisory Committee on Transparency event, it's a good time to reflect on positive transparency developments around the country (as opposed to yesterday's disheartening news).

Sunshine Week; Spelman STEM; LBGTQ Wedding Service : The Michael Eric Dyson Show


This week in March marks Sunshine Week, an initiative that emphasizes the need for government openness and transparency. Andy Alexander, spokesperson for the American Society of News Editors, which sponsors Sunshine Week, discusses the ...

Sunshine Week Arrives at GSA

from the U.S. General Services Administration

Learn about all of GSA's Open Government initiatives. GSA invites the public to play an active role in our government. ...

March 15

Glass half full

from the National Security Archive

Washington, D.C., March 14, 2011 - The Obama administration is only about halfway toward its promise of improving Freedom of Information responsiveness among federal agencies, according to the new Knight Open Government Survey by the National Security Archive, released Monday for Sunshine Week at http://www.nsarchive.org/.

SPJ 'honoring' Utah governor for closing records

from Cache Valley Daily

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The national Society of Professional Journalists plans to present Gov. Gary Herbert with a first-ever Black Hole award Wednesday to highlight the law, which increases fees for records request and makes text messages private.

U.S. alone among Western democracies in protecting hate speech

Commentary by Peter Scheer, Executive Director, FIRST AMENDMENT COALITION

An inebriated John Galliano, sitting in a Paris bar, unleashes an anti-Semitic rant (“I love Hitler”) that is captured on a cellphone camera and posted on the internet. Within days the Dior designer is not only fired from his job, but is given a trial date to face criminal charges for his offensive remarks.

Shining A Light On Open Government


Spread a little sunshine and celebrate freedom of information in our democracy during Sunshine Week, March 13-19. Sunshine Week, March 13-19, is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of ...

Sunshine mixed with clouds, rain

Laconia Citizen

@Editorial body:Although the forecast for later this week tells us to expect rain, we still celebrate these few days as Sunshine Week, a time for us to remember our very special form of government, which calls upon elected officials to do the public's ...

Some Feds keep the shades drawn on Sunshine Week

OhMyGov! (blog)

That's right kids, we're talkin' Sunshine Week! For those not in the know (ie anyone who doesn't consider Jay Carney an A-List celebrity), Sunshine Week is an annual event founded by the American Society of News Editors and funded largely by the John ...

FdL, NFdL Schools provide open records for Sunshine Week

Fond du Lac Reporter

Sunshine Week, which started Sunday, is an annual initiative to promote freedom of information. Participants include news gathering organizations, civic groups, libraries, nonprofit groups, schools and others. Five Gannett Wisconsin newspapers, ...

Sunshine Week Feature: Politicians embrace social media & technology


By Robert Rizzuto, The Republican Among the millions of people tweeting, blogging or posting their thoughts to Facebook each day are an increasing numbers of politicians. While office holders use these platforms to promote their efforts or to draw ...


Open government doesn't just happen

Visalia Times-Delta

Here during Sunshine Week, it is another indication that the objective of completely open government is an ideal that is rarely realized. CalAware sampled 197 school districts in California at random to assess their compliance with public records ...

GRAY MATTER: Let's bring the sunshine back to Spring Grove government

Spring Grove Herald

By Heather M. Gray This week is what is known as "Sunshine Week," which is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors. ...

Here are ways to learn about your lawmakers

Fond du Lac Reporter

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and citizens interested in the public's ...

Openness laws play critical role in bringing investigations of crime and government to light in Oklahoma


March 13-19 is Sunshine Week, a national effort to promote open government. BY BRYAN DEAN bdean@opubco.com Leave a comment Political candidates with criminal backgrounds and financial problems; accusations of incompetence, laziness and fraud at the ...


Obama wants it both ways on Sunshine Week | Examiner Editorial ...

By Examiner Editorial

James Madison's birthday will be celebrated Wednesday at the Newseum with the induction of a new class of members into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame, to be hosted by the First Amendment Center.

Lawmakers attack public access during Sunshine Week | theCLog

By Rhiannon Fionn-Bowman

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the ...

Happy Sunshine Week | Capital Blog

By mkovac

Happy Sunshine Week. Posted on March 15, 2011 by mkovac. Former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann talks about the state's open meetings and public records laws in this state-produced clip that was distributed with the 2008 Ohio Sunshine ...

Welcome to Sunshine Week « VIVIAN J. PAIGE | All Politics is Local

By Mark Brooks

This is the 7th Annual Sunshine Week and is being celebrated by lovers of open government all over the country. Started by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and supported through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight ...

Track headlines about Sunshine Week and government transparency ...

By Robertson Adams

Each year, the media and civic groups celebrate Sunshine Week - a national initiative to promote open government and freedom of information. So far, the effort has spurred articles calling for transparency in Michigan's campaign finance ...


Sunshine Week | Richmond Times-Dispatch

"There's no law that says how you keep a record. That's why you have a lack of uniformity," - Maria J.K. Everett of the Virginia Freedom of Information ...

Sunshine Week is reminder to protect Right-to-Know law

Pennsylvanians have reason to celebrate during Sunshine Week; we're entering the third year of the new Right-To-Know Law, which finally allowed us to look ...

Let's follow Florida and shine light on public's right to know access


It isn't often that Montanans can say, "Thank you, Florida." This time of year, however, the Big Sky owes the Sunshine State a tip of the cap.

Support public’s right to know: On week celebrating freedom of information, back legislation preventing pre-emptive lawsuits

Missoulian editorial

At about this same time each year, we long for sunshine to welcome the days of spring. Meanwhile, newspapers across the country join forces in calling for sunshine - for a transparent, open government - to highlight the importance of free-flowing public information every day of the year.

Agencies struggling to meet Obama's order on FOIA

Associated Press

Dozens of federal agencies are struggling to meet President Barack Obama's 2-year-old order that requires the government to respond more quickly and thoroughly to request for records under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, a study finds.

See the Ohio Newspaper Association Bulletin for more headlines this week.

See the Sunshine Week Round up from the Sunlight Foundation

Knight Survey: Nearly Half of Federal Agencies Lag in Responding to FOIA Information Requests

from WisOpinion.com — Opee Awards toast open government, by Bill Leuders, president, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council   03.10.2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sunshine Week at Work in the States

from NFOIC:

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

Sunshine Week as a national effort is spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors. The key funder has been the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with significant support from ASNE Foundation.

From here, you'll find a list of Sunshine Week events and observances that are being held across the country.

An added bonus: What you see here will also appear in Sunshine Week Coast to Coast, a special feature on the iPhone app, iOpenGov, brought to you by our friends and NFOIC member coalition, First Amendment Coalition.

The free app enhances the event listing with app tools that make it easy to get more information, visit Web sites, add events to your calendars, share the listing via email and Twitter and Facebook, and access maps and driving directions to the venues.

Get the app--and the latest news--here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunshine Week: The forecast is mostly cloudy

from The Huffington Post:
COLUMBIA, Mo. (from Ken Bunting, executive director at NFOIC) -- Heading into "Sunshine Week," many open government advocates across the country feel they have much more to bemoan than they have to celebrate.

Even if no court or attorney general ever chastises Wisconsin's Republican legislators for violating open meetings law notice requirements, the convoluted web of parliamentary rationalizations surrounding their vote last night is still beyond ordinary comprehension.

Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has signed into law a measure that now means that fewer than half of all U.S. state legislatures hold themselves to the same levels of transparency they prescribe for others.

Worse yet, open government laws in state after state, whether or not their reach goes to lawmakers themselves, are being damaged and weakened, with increasing frequency, by new exclusions, loopholes and crazy exemptions that promote more secrecy and a lot less transparency.

President Obama's openness pledge has garnered a lot of attention, with advocates questioning whether it was a false promise and whether his professed belief in transparency will ever make its way down through the vast federal bureaucracy.

But at the state and local levels, there has been little notice of an ongoing frontal assault on open, accessible government. When viewed comprehensibly and nationally, what has been happening in state legislatures all across the land has been downright scary.
Read the rest here.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Reporters Committee lauds another win for openness in Supreme Court

from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:
Washington, D.C. — The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press lauded today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in another decision favorable to open government, this time ruling that the Navy’s use of a Freedom of Information Act exemption for records regarding internal agency personnel rules and practices was improperly invoked to deny the release of maps and charts.

“For the second time in a week, the Supreme Court has reinforced the public's right to get valuable information held by the government through the Freedom of Information Act,” said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. “The government's interpretation of the ‘High 2’ exemption was tortured, at best, and once again the Court relied on a common sense approach to government transparency.”

Last week, the court ruled that AT&T could not use a FOIA exemption related to “personal privacy” to prevent the Federal Communications Commissions from releasing records about the corporation.

The Reporters Committee and 19 news organizations filed an amicus brief last September in Milner v. Department of the Navy cautioning against the “erroneous” expansion of FOIA Exemption 2 with so-called “High 2” information that includes more than basic personnel rules and records.

“Exemption 2 by its plain language exempts only those materials ‘related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.’ However … it has been expanded by agency interpretation and adopted by lower courts to over time cover more than just trivial matters of internal procedure to also include almost any record whose disclosure could enable some unidentified party to commit a hypothetical crime at some undefined future time,” the media brief noted.
Read the rest here.

A dark day for Utah FOI

from SPJ Blog Network:
On Wednesday, the Utah House Public Utilities and Technology Committee gave its OK to a bill that essentially dismantles the 20-year-old Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA). As The Salt Lake Tribune reports, the bill, House Bill 477, would strip the legislative intent statement from GRAMA, which states that privacy concerns would be balanced with the public’s right to know; requiring those who appeal a records denial to make the case for disclosure by a “preponderance of the evidence” rather than submitting to a balancing test of the public’s right to know verus privacy concerns; makes text messages, instant-message chats, video chats and voice mails private records; fee waivers would be based on whether it was in the best interest of “taxpayer resources” to do so, rather than whether the person is seeking the records for a public benefit; and would allow for the inclusion of overhead, salary and other costs associated with filling a request; and make much of the Legislature’s paperwork exempt from disclosure.

And those are just a few of the things it does.

Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland, ironically identified himself as an advocate of transparency. He claims GRAMA has gone too far and, to bolster his case, he trots out the canard of a constituent e-mailing a legislator to discuss a bill and mentioning as an aside that his child is sick, and the child’s illness being splashed across the front pages of newspapers.
Read the rest here.

Isthmus, Wisconsin Associated Press sue Gov. Scott Walker over access to emails

from Isthmus/The Daily Page:
Isthmus newspaper and the Wisconsin Associated Press today filed a lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker over his office's failure to respond to open records requests regarding emails received by his office.

"The governor said he had gotten more than 8,000 emails as of Feb. 17, with 'the majority' urging him to 'stay firm' on his budget repair bill," says Isthmus News Editor Bill Lueders. "We're just trying to see these largely supportive responses."

The lawsuit, filed March 4 in Dane County court, names as defendants Gov. Walker and the office of the governor.

Isthmus made its request by hand-delivered letter on Feb. 18, a day after Walker referred to these 8,000 emails and about an hour before he held another press conference saying the number had since swelled to 19,000, again mostly positive. The paper followed this with two communications with Walker spokesperson Cullen Werwie (the second of which, on Feb. 24, was also sent to Brian Hagedorn, the governor's legal counsel). Both asked for an update on the status of the original request.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Does new Supreme Court decision in FOIA case stop Citizens United in its tracks?

from CREW:
The Supreme Court issued a decision in Fed. Communications Comm’n v. AT&T, holding the protection the Freedom of Information Act provides for “personal privacy” does not include corporations. AT&T was trying to prevent the disclosure of documents it had submitted to the FCC as part of an investigation, arguing their release would invade the corporation’s personal privacy. According to AT&T, because the word “person” in the FOIA includes corporations, the reference to “personal privacy” must also include corporations.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case, many feared the Court would use it as an opportunity to extend its ruling in Citizens United, where it recognized the First Amendment rights of corporations, to broader contexts such as the FOIA. A number of groups, including CREW, filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the Supreme Court to use common sense and congressional intent to limit the FOIA’s personal privacy protection to individuals.
Read the rest here.

A new 'toolkit' for opening up civic life

from techPresident:
Citizens who believe their government is open and transparent are more likely to be satisfied with civic life, according to research released by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and the Monitor Institute.

Accompanying that research is a set of materials drafted by the Monitor Institute, a for-profit think tank and consultancy hybrid, intended to help community leaders identify how better flow of information in their communities might improve civic life, and then plan out how to create that change.

Pew and the Monitor Institute, conducting surveys and workshops in research backed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found that the belief that local government is transparent correlates with a belief that citizens can make a difference in their cities. Respondents in Philadelphia, P.A., Macon, Ga., and San Jose, Ca., who said that local government does very or pretty well at sharing information were far more likely to report feeling that they could make an impact in their community than those who did not, the survey found.
Read more here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Court: No personal privacy for business in FOIA

from Washington Post:
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that corporations have no right of personal privacy to prevent the disclosure of documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the 8-0 opinion Tuesday that reversed an appeals court ruling in favor of AT&T. The outcome was notable for its unanimity, especially in view of recent criticism from liberal interest groups that the court tilts too far in favor of business.

"The protection in FOIA against disclosure of law enforcement information on the ground that it would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy does not extend to corporations," Roberts wrote. "We trust that AT&T will not take it personally."
Read the rest here.

Sensible strategies for open government and online hubs

from KnightComm:
The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation released two policy papers that call on community and elected leaders to adopt sensible strategies to expand government transparency, make public records and civic data more open and accessible to the public, and create local online hubs that provide maps for a community’s information resources.

Government Transparency: Six Strategies for More Open and Participatory Government, by Jon Gant and Nicol Turner-Lee, urges state and local governments to adopt six strategies that are particularly important for accelerating the trend toward open government at the state and local levels. The strategies focus on enhancing government expertise and transparency, educating citizens regarding the availability and utility of government information and e-government tools, expanding efforts to support greater adoption of broadband Internet access services and devices, and forging public-private-citizen partnerships in order to enhance open government solutions. Adopting these strategies will enable state and local governments to tap into the expertise and innovative spirit of the public to create new “public goods” apps and community information resources and ultimately enhance government accountability.

Creating Local Online Hubs: Three Models for Action, by Adam Thierer, explores three scenarios under which community leaders and other stakeholders can work together to create local online hubs where citizens can access information about their governments and local communities. Government information, requiring real transparency of public information, should form the foundation for building local online hubs according to the three models proposed by Thierer.
Read the rest here.