New York Times Takes A Look at the FOIA Slow Road…

In case you missed it, The New York Times had a really interesting piece on FOIA the other day. The money graf:

On Jan. 4, The New York Times received a final response from the Defense Department to a FOIA request made on June 1, 1997. The department sent it by Federal Express, Priority Overnight.

Sheesh. Well, at least they Fedexed the response!

Image representing New York Times as depicted ...

Image via CrunchBase

Enhanced by Zemanta

New Jersey Court: Hand Over E-Mails Detailing Facebook Donation

An Essex County judge today ordered Newark to turn over an itemized list of e-mails surrounding Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the city’s schools.

The order by Superior Court Judge Rachel Davidson is the latest chapter in an ongoing legal battle between the city and the ACLU of New Jersey, which is representing a community group trying to determine what conditions, if any, were attached to the grant, which was first announced in September 2010.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

In a 22-page motion filed in October, the city’s lawyers tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that because the Zuckerberg money is administered by Foundation for Newark’s Future, a non-profit group, the city does not maintain records.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Taping Executive Sessions: A Fine Idea in Washington State

Now here is a problem in need of a solution, and a public official with a fine idea!

Did the new Olympia City Council begin the new year with an illegal council meeting?

Unfortunately, members of the public will never know the answer to that question because there is no audio or video record of what went on behind closed doors.

The council’s apparent misstep is an excellent example of why the state Legislature must adopt Attorney General Rob McKenna’s bill to allow government agencies to record their closed-door executive sessions. If there’s a question whether the city council or county commission or school board broke the law behind closed doors, there’s proof in the video or audio recording. A judge can review the recording in his or her chambers and determine whether an illegal meeting was conducted.

U.S. Conference of Mayors Secretly Coordinated Occupy Response…

After denying that they are coordinating responses to Occupy Wall Street, the U.S. Conference of Mayors recently surveyed city administrations across the country about the movement.

In late November, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request

Occupy Wall Street.

Image by BlaisOne via Flickr

, the District of Columbia mayor’s office received a request to update its answers to the survey. The questions to city officials appeared to elicit profiles of Occupy activists and answers that could help show the activists as a drain on resources.

The mayor’s conference asked via the emailed survey: What are the estimated Occupy-related costs? What are the major issues relating to Occupy events? Has the Occupy membership changed and if so “describe those involved in the movement how they’ve changed in terms of who they are and what their intentions for the demonstrations are.”

In the survey, the organization also called on city administrations to share tactics. “Please describe any strategies or tactics your city is employing in responding to Occupy-related events, including an assessment of their effectiveness if possible.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has quietly led efforts to coordinate city responses to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the records show. These documents — which comprise emails to local D.C. officials — appear to contradict previous statements in which mayors denied any sort of group strategy sessions.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thirteen people, 12 of them Lime Rock Fire District residents, have filed suit against the Lime Rock, Rhode Island, Fire District, Chief Frank Sylvester, and record keeper Lesley Heaton, alleging “hundreds” of knowing and willful violations of the Access to Public Records Act.

Among the documents requested were Sylvester’s employment contracts, his e-mails, proof that the chief had received permission to garage his personal vehicles on public property over 23 years as he has claimed, and proof that the chief accepted an appointment to become the state’s fire marshal on a ‘leave of absence’ temporary basis as he has claimed…

Monday’s lawsuit is the latest chapter in the ongoing controversy of Chief Sylvester and his years-long effort to skirt Pawtucket’s higher car tax rate by registering his personal vehicles at his place of work in Lincoln.

Last year the Rhode Island State Police determined that the chief was breaking the law by registering his cars at the Lime Rock Fire Department, but did not press charges in the matter. The state police left it up to Pawtucket officials to “determine if any further action to collect (those) taxes from Chief Sylvester is appropriate.”

Pawtucket city officials have said they want to pursue back taxes from Sylvester for the years he wrongfully paid them to Lincoln.

Enhanced by Zemanta

ACLU sues St. Louis over inmate grievance records…

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the city of St. Louis, asking a judge to make the city turn over jail records related to inmate grievances.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the suit file Wednesday accuses the city’s corrections division of ignoring repeated requests over the past four months for records under the Missouri Sunshine Law.

The suit seeks an injunction forcing release of the records. It also asks the judge to find the city in violation of the law and to impose civil penalties.

The two jails in St. Louis came under criticism in 2011 after a series of jail breaks. The ACLU has also been critical of treatment of inmates at the jails, citing sexual harassment, medical neglect and other abuses.

Two in Three Iowans Want an FOI Ombuds…

Two in three Iowans polled favor the creation of a board in state government to handle citizen complaints about violations of open meetings and access to government documents.

The findings come as Gov. Terry Branstad has joined open government advocates in pushing the Legislature to create such a board, staffed by a full-time attorney, to handle complaints.

The September poll, commissioned by the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, found Iowans want greater accountability and openness in government than is currently practiced, even though few Iowans know the specifics of the state’s open meetings and records laws.

“In every question about the tension between openness and privacy, Iowans endorse more openness,” notes pollster J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., in a summary of results.

The poll — one of the first of its kind in the country — provides a baseline of Iowans’ beliefs that can be used by the Legislature, as well as by the Freedom of Information Council, Kathleen Richardson, the nonprofit organization’s executive secretary, said.

Enhanced by Zemanta

We Need Secrecy for Drones, So We Need Secrecy For…

The Justice Department has a new legal argument for why the government should be allowed to conceal the postmortem photographs of Osama bin Laden: It’s doing the same thing with the CIA’s classified drone program.

On Wednesday, the department filed court papers [PDF] asking a federal judge to rule against the government watchdog group Judicial Watch, which is suing for the release of “all photographs and/or video recordings” taken of bin Laden during the May 1, 2011 raid in Abbottabad. The filing rehashes many of the government’s stated reasons for concealing the photographs (inciting violence in the Muslim world, revealing classified “operational methods,” etc) but also leans on the CIA’s refusal to acknowledge its widely-publicized drone program.

The argument confronts a claim by Judicial Watch that releasing the bin Laden photos would not pose a national security risk because everyone already knows the U.S. killed bin Laden. In response, the Justice Department says the CIA’s drone program, like the U.S. raid in Abbottabad, is also public knowledge but that doesn’t mean releasing information about it wouldn’t jeopardize national security.

“The fact that the public may already speak freely of the existence of drones, or speculate openly that such a program may be directed in part or in whole by the CIA, does not emasculate the CIA’s warnings of harm were it forced to acknowledge officially the existence or nonexistence of requested records,” reads the filing.

It’s the sort of argument that makes government transparency advocates squeamish. As The New York Times noted about the CIA’s failure to acknowledge the drone program in October, “The secrecy compulsion often merely makes the government look silly … But it can also hinder public debate of some of government’s most hotly contested actions.” Now, turns out, the Justice Department is using the government’s much-pilloried refusal to acknowledge the widely-known drone program to justify its withholding of the bin Laden photos, creating a kind of slippery slope of secrecy.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Plot Thickens in Wisconsin: Did the Governor Create a Parallel E-Mail Universe?

Today’s plot twist in the Wisconsin recall saga contained a nugget of interest to FOI types…in a story on criminal charges being filed against a couple of Walker associates for politicking on state time, came this:

Milwaukee County prosecutors also made the surprising disclosure that top Walker aides set up a private Internet network to allow them to communicate with one another by email about campaign as well as county government work without the public or co-workers’ knowledge.

The emails Walker officials traded via the shadow network could provide investigators with a trove of information as they pursue other angles in the case. Earlier this week, the Journal Sentinel reported that the probe was focusing on possible bid-rigging and other misconduct in the competition to house the county Department on Aging in private office space.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Delaware Re-Evaluates Secret Juvenile Justice System…

I have long argued that a bit of sunshine would do a great deal of good in the world of juvenile justice, as secretive an institution as exists in American life. Delaware officials might just agree, at least in part. Good for them:

State lawmakers are considering whether to order a study of the feasibility of opening Family Court proceedings to the public.

Open-government advocates have complained for years about the secrecy in which Family Court operates.

Family Court is a trial court that handles domestic relations, juvenile delinquency, and intra-family misdemeanors. Under state law, most Family Court proceedings involving issues such as divorce, adoption, termination of parental rights and custody issues are closed to the public.

But the Delaware Constitution says all courts must be open.

A resolution to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday calls for the creation of task force to determine whether existing laws regarding Family Court proceedings should be modified to reflect a presumption of open courts.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 433 other followers