Taking a week off to get some real sunshine, In Mexico. Keep ‘em honest until I return!
In a classic example of cloak-and-dagger lawmaking, a Tennessee legislative committee tacked a secrecy provision onto a completely unrelated piece of legislation with no advance notice to anyone…
Tennessee lawmakers want to close the door on teacher performance to parents and the media, keeping all aspects of educators’ new evaluations confidential.
A new measure is drawing praise from the state’s largest teachers union and disappointment among some observers. In a time of massive education reform, opponents say, parents and the public should get to see how it’s working.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance SB1447, sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville. The bill will be heard in a House subcommittee today.
The vote came as a surprise to many. An amendment to keep teachers’ scores confidential was tacked onto a bill that would have done the same for licensure tests administered by the state Department of Commerce and Insurance.
So, let me get this straight: revamp the way teachers are evaluated, then shield the whole thing from the consumers of the education system. Yeah, that makes a TON of sense…
A nice blog post on just how deep the skullduggery went here.
No reason why every journalism program in the country can’t do this:
On Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 29, the Spartan Online News Network, powered by Michigan State University journalism students, emailed most of the municipalities and school districts in Ingham County with a simple request. The students asked how many Freedom of Information Act requests these entities had received in each of the five preceding years. They cited the FOIA in their requests.
Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act says local government should respond or ask for an extension within five business days. We felt the request could be answered quickly, without straining local clerks. In some cases, this was true. In others, we have not heard back, long after the five-day response period has passed.
Some communities answered immediately, others denied the request and invited us to sue them in Circuit Court, as the law provides. Three, so far, have set fees ranging from $5 to $40 to perhaps more. In one case, we were told that this is just a crummy time of year to follow the Freedom of Information Act.
There is a lack of consistency about how easily governments make it easy for citizens to use the Freedom of Information Act and several reported glitchy email systems or websites. Some small communities have trouble complying with requests and others seem to do OK. In many cases, it might help to centralize FOIA requests.
Right here in my backyard, a really interesting look at the diplomacy, and lack thereof, in big-time college athletics:
In November, Big 12 interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas steeled for battle as the conference that was temporarily placed in his hands continued to fracture. His secret weapon would be a legal document that he could “wave around” in a meeting with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive with the goal of keeping Missouri in the Big 12.
The lawsuit, slated to be filed in Boone County Circuit Court, never came to pass. But the 12-page draft of a petition for injunctive relief was obtained by the Tribune this month. It charged the SEC with illegally enticing Missouri to breach its contractual commitment to the Big 12 — an effort the suit states was “willful, deliberate and in bad faith” and the cause of “irreparable injury to the Big 12 for which money damages is not an adequate remedy.”
The draft requested an injunction to bar the SEC from accepting Missouri before June 30, 2016, the final day of the current Big 12 member agreement.
. Really? Who would have thunk it?
The firestorm of debate ignited by Gov. Scott Walker’s changes to collective bargaining rules last year also triggered an explosion of requests for public information from his office.
The office received 214 written requests during 2011, some three times more than the previous governor saw just a few years earlier, Gannett Wisconsin Media found while checking public records activity as part of a Sunshine Week open-government initiative.
The analysis, involving more than 700 pages of documents, also showed that about 1 in 5 requesters got records within a month. Others waited as long as 120 days or more.
The volume of requests last year “probably has a lot to do with a lot of the budget reforms,” said Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for Walker.
from the AP on the hunt for bin Laden…and the hunt for bin Laden records…
The hunt for Osama bin Laden took nearly a decade. It could take even longer to uncover U.S. government emails, planning reports, photographs and more that would shed light on how an elite team of Navy SEALs killed the world’s most wanted terrorist.
Ten months after that electrifying covert mission, an administrationthat has pledged to be the most transparent in American history is refusing to release documents about it under the Freedom of Information Act. The records could provide insights into how bin Laden died, how the U.S. verified his identity and how it decided to bury him at sea, as well as photographs taken during and after the May 2011 raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Government officials have openly discussed details of the mission in speeches, interviews and television appearances, but the administration won’t disclose records that would confirm their narrative of that fateful night. The Obama administration has not said even where in Washington’s bureaucracy all the documents might be stored.
And then this little gem:
Citing the law, The Associated Press asked for files about the raid in more than 20 separate requests, mostly submitted the day after bin Laden’s death. The Pentagon told the AP this month it could not locate any photographs or video taken during the raid or showing bin Laden’s body. It also said it could not find any images of bin Laden’s body on the Navy aircraft carrier where the al-Qaida leader’s body was taken.
The Pentagon said it could not find any death certificate, autopsy report or results of DNA identification tests for bin Laden, or any pre-raid materials discussing how the government planned to dispose of bin Laden’s body if he were killed. It said it searched files at the Pentagon, U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., and the Navy command in San Diego that controls the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier used in the mission.
The Defense Department told the AP in late February it could not find any emails about the bin Laden mission or his “Geronimo” code name that were sent or received in the year before the raid by William McRaven, the three-star admiral at the Joint Special Operations Command who organized and oversaw the mission. It also could not find any emails from other senior officers who would have been involved in the mission’s planning. It found only three such emails written by or sent to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and these consisted of 12 pages sent to Gates summarizing news reports after the raid.
The Obama administration couldn’t keep pace with the increasing number of people asking for copies ofgovernment documents, emails, photographs and more under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of the latest federal data by The Associated Press.
Federal agencies did better last year trying to fulfill requests, but still fell further behind with backlogs, due mostly to surges in immigration records requested from the Homeland Security Department. It released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought — and outright rejected other requests — at about the same rate as the previous two years. The AP analyzed figures over the last three years from 37 of the largest federal departments and agencies.
There was progress: The government responded to more requests than ever in 2011 — more than 576,000 — a 5 percent increase from the year before. Offices less frequently cited legal provisions that allow them to keep records secret, especially emails and documents describing how federal officials make important decisions. Agencies took less time, on average, to turn over records: about one month for requests it considered “simple” and about three months for more complicated requests. And 23 of 37 agencies reduced their individual backlogs of requests or kept buildups from increasing.
A riveting account of suing the government over FOIA, from a pro se litigant’s perspective:
Inside well-funded newsrooms, investigative reporters can usually turn to company lawyers for help with stalled public records requests. But independent freelancers don’t have that luxury, and many can’t afford to hire legal counsel on their own. So when the time comes to stop asking the government for public records and start demanding them, what can a low-to-no budget freelancer without legal counsel do?
To start, it’s possible to act as your own attorney and sue for access to information without the benefit of legal counsel—a tactic called pro se representation. Over the past few years, as the U.S. economy has taken a nosedive, more and more people have elected to save on legal fees by representing themselves in court. “It’s generally a bad idea for people to represent themselves in court, period,” said Geoff King, Northern California’s SPJ FOI committee co-chair and a former staff attorney for the First Amendment Project. King, ever the comedian, quoted an adage to me via e-mail: “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Still, when it comes to FOIA-related lawsuits, there are plenty of resources out there to prevent pro se litigants from looking silly.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost figures that if his office can’t quickly obtain public records, the average Ohioan faces “pretty tough odds.”
Yost today proclaimed that the “public records law in Ohio is alive, but not well” as he released a study of cities’ responses to his office’s request on Oct. 17 for copies of their annual payrolls.
Forty percent of Ohio’s 247 cities failed to provide records within the requested seven to 10 days, a figure that the auditor declared “unacceptable.” Within a month, 77 percent of cities had turned over their payrolls.
Two cities, Niles and Campbell in northeastern Ohio, still have not responded.
State law does not specify a time frame within which public-records requests must be fulfilled, instead using a “reasonable” standard. Yost said cities should be able to provide routine documents within two days.
“These documents belong to the people” and should be made available without delay, Yost said at a news conference that marked “Sunshine Week,” a national campaign to promote government transparency.
Lawmakers have rejected an effort to revise West Virginia’s open records law, defeating a proposal that aimed to open personal emails sent from government accounts to public scrutiny based on the subject matter.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to reject a bill that would define a public record as any written information prepared or received by a public body, if its content or context relates to the conduct of public business.
Earlier this session, the House of Delegates unanimously approved the change. Legislators have sought to revise the definition since a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling found that the state’s records law did not apply to personal emails sent by a sitting justice and a party in a case before the court.