Getting School Superintendent Contracts…And Doing An FOI Audit While You’re At It

What a great FOI twofer! The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Torrington Register Citizen are working on gathering all school chief contracts for Connecticut in order to build a searchable database. They also decided to test the responsiveness of each district under FOI law…

From the lede story:

Amity was one of only two school districts in the state to charge a fee for a copy of the superintendent’s contract and require that the documents be picked up in person, a recent Freedom of Information test done by three daily newspapers shows.

About half of Connecticut’s 149 public school districts responded within 24 hours to the FOI request seeking copies of school superintendent contracts, including Branford, Cheshire, Hamden, Milford, Orange, North Haven and New Haven.

The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen are gathering all school chief contracts for the state in order to build a searchable database. The publications decided to also test the responsiveness of each district under FOI law with the project.

The state’s Freedom of Information Act requires a response within four days, but this can be just a confirmation of receiving the request and an estimated time frame for when the documents will be provided. If no response is given by the fourth business day, it is automatically considered a denial and the requester may file a complaint with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

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Ah, the Quirky World of Big-Time College Football Coaches

USA Today did a great FOI-driven sports story looking at the crazy stuff included in coaches’ contracts….

USA TODAY Sports reporters and editors analyzed thousands of documents in calculating salaries for the 124 FBS head coaches and nearly 1,000 assistants.

While combing through contract after contract – after contract after contract – we also came across a few interesting contractual “quirks.” Some involve relationships with supermarket chains, golf clubs and gun shops. Others are bonuses that can be earned by reaching certain on- and off-field goals. Here are a few examples:

Texas coach Mack Brown:

Brown was paid $60,000 to serve as the chairman of the board for the University of Texas Golf Club. While it’s a pittance compared to his football earnings, Brown’s off-the-field benefits also included a $750 gift card to McBride’s Guns in Austin.

And this gem:

Washington coach Steve Sarkisian:

The university pays the cost of having Sarkisian’s family travel to all away football games, all postseason events in which the football team participates and two additional business-related trips each fiscal year if he so elects.

Poor guy needs travel money….

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Bin Laden Burial at Sea Docs Released Thanks to FOIA

Internal emails among U.S. military officers indicate that no sailors watched Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea from the USS Carl Vinson and traditional Islamic procedures were followed during the ceremony.

The emails, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, are heavily blacked out, but are the first public disclosure of government information about the Al Qaeda leader’s death. The emails were released last week by the Defense Department.

Bin Laden was killed May 1, 2011, by a Navy SEAL team that assaulted his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

One email stamped secret and sent on May 2 by a senior Navy officer briefly describes how bin Laden’s body was washed, wrapped in a white sheet and then placed in a weighted bag.

According to another message from the Vinson’s public affairs officer, only a small group of the ship’s leadership was informed of the burial.

“Traditional procedures for Islamic burial was followed,” the May 2 email from Rear Adm. Charles Gaouette reads. “The deceased’s body was washed (ablution) then placed in a white sheet. The body was placed in a weighted bag. A military officer read prepared religious remarks, which were translated into Arabic by a native speaker. After the words were complete, the body was placed on a prepared flat board, tipped up, whereupon the deceased’s body slid into the sea.”

Although the Obama administration has pledged to be the most transparent in American history, it is keeping a tight hold on materials related to the bin Laden raid. In a response to separate requests from the AP for information about the mission, the Defense Department said in March that 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 Vinson…

The Pentagon also 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.

The Defense Department also refused to confirm or deny the existence of helicopter maintenance logs and reports about the performance of military gear used in the raid. One of the stealth helicopters that carried the SEALs to Abbottabad crashed during the mission and its wreckage was left behind. People who lived near bin Laden’s compound took photos of the disabled chopper.

The AP is appealing the Defense Department’s decision. The CIA, which ran the bin Laden raid and has special legal authority to keep information from ever being made public, has not responded to AP’s request for records about the mission.

English: Osama bin Laden interviewed for Daily...

English: Osama bin Laden interviewed for Daily Pakistan in 1997; behind him on the wall is an AK-47 carbine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Overtime Records Always, Always Generate Stories!

Here is yet another:

Patients with serious mental illness are treated at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany. It’s just one of the facilities run by the State Office of Mental Health, also known as “OMH.”

The agency regulates, certifies and oversees 4500 programs across New York, from suicide prevention to counseling. But as NewsChannel 13 learned, the employees that get all that done, rack up a lot of overtime.

Records we obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show overtime expenses at OMH spiked nearly eight-million-dollars over the last two years, topping 82 million dollars…and taxpayers foot that bill.

Some of the agency’s employees made more than twice their base salary.

Just consider at what a secure care treatment aide at a Bronx OMH facility pulled down in overtime last year: nearly $116,000. That’s 240% over his base salary of $48,000.

Here in the Capital Region, a mental health therapy aide earned $88,000 in overtime on top of her annual salary of $43,000.

And a psychiatric nurse, earned nearly $80,000 in overtime over her base pay of nearly $56,000…

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Nearly 40 years later, this seems anticlimactic…unless you are a historian interested in finding out exactly how all of this went down:

A federal judge has ordered the release of long-sealed records relating to the 1973 trial of Watergate conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord, both of whom served as officials of President Richard Nixon’s re-election bid.

Chief Judge Royce Lamberth, acting on a petition from Texas A&M history professor Luke Nichter, issued an order Friday setting in motion the unsealing.

Lamberth’s order (posted here) unseals all records in the case apart from grand jury records, sentencing reports relating to living individuals, and “documents reflecting the contents of illegally obtained wiretaps.” The Justice Department had agreed with unsealing of the Liddy case records, aside from those three categories.

In an interview Friday, Nichter hailed the judge’s decision. “The National Archives has told me they have an enormous quantity of Watergate records still sealed,” the professor said. “They’ve told me they hope to bring these documents out of legal limbo, but you can’t get them under [the Freedom of Information Act.] It takes extraordinary action by a judge to bring them out.”

Nichter said he believes at least some of the sealed records relate to Alfred Baldwin, a potential witness in the Libby case who was involved in wiretapping the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate office that was broken into. Prosecutors sought to put Baldwin on the stand, but third-parties—apparently those overheard in the wiretaps—managed to block his testimony…

English: G. Gordon Liddy, famous for his invol...

English: G. Gordon Liddy, famous for his involvement (and ultimate imprisonment) in the Watergate scandal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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