Virginia Supremes to Hear Interesting Sunshine Case

This is a case worth watching, as this issue bedevils FOI advocates across the country: officials using e-mail to skirt open meetings laws…

Virginia’s Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments Monday in a case arising from Fairfax County schools that could impose new limits on how elected officials use e-mail to discuss public business.

The key question is whether hundreds of e-mails, which Fairfax School Board members sent to one another before a controversial vote to close Clifton Elementary School, constituted secret meetings in violation of the state Freedom of Information Act…

In the Fairfax case, justices will have to determine whether School Board members’ e-mails involved “virtually simultaneous interaction.”

That is the standard the state Supreme Court set in 2004, when it decided that e-mails sent among Fredericksburg City Council members — at intervals ranging from four hours to two days apart — were not “virtually simultaneous” and thus did not count as a meeting.

A fine example of journalism doing untold damage to sunshine…

This kind of stuff makes my head literally ache: a story that allows a proponent of secrecy to make age-old arguments against open searches completely, utterly unchallenged by, well, fact…

Florida’s open records laws will impact the quality of applicants seeking the Duval County Public Schools superintendent position, according to the president of a national education nonprofit that trains school boards.

“It’s the biggest problem you have,” said Cathy Mincberg, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems, “[is] how to deal with sunshine.”

Mincberg said the state’s open records laws will weigh heavily on candidates’ eagerness to apply for Duval’s position — particularly candidates with good relationship with their current school boards.

“They do not get up and apply for places where they are going to be humiliated,” Mincberg said. “Having your name out there is a humiliation because it says to your own board that, ‘I’m thinking about leaving you.’ ”

OK, so where to begin here? With the fact that all across the state of Florida, for decades, EVERY candidate in a similar position has faced the terror of a public search and somehow still mustered the courage to apply for a high-paying, taxpayer-funded, PUBLIC POSITION?!?!

Have any of the hundreds of other superintendents in Florida not walked the same path? Are we to believe that hundreds of the absolute best superintendent candidates in the state are instead teaching because they simply can not bear the scrutiny of a public search? That they are ignoring the higher pay, power and perks of the superintendent’s job for fear of the sunshine? Balderdash. Utter bunk. And not one source in the state of Florida offered the chance to knock this down?

I know a half dozen great sources they could have called. Heck, they do, too!

The silly constitutional challenge to open meetings law in Texas may never end…

It’s a fundamental flaw in the fabric of FOI: requesters stonewalled by government agencies square off with taxpayer-funded lawyers with all the time in the world on their hands…

Signaling their intention to go to court forever to withhold information from the public, lawyers for 15 city officials begin today trying to convince the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the Texas Open Meetings Act violates their freedom of speech.

The officials from Alpine, Wichita Falls, Pflugerville, Sugar Land, Arlington, Heath, Rockport, Leon Valley, Whitesboro, Hurst and Bellmead filed suit in 2009 contending they conduct public business in terror of violating the law.

In March of 2011, U.S. District Judge Robert Junell took 37 pages to call their contention nonsense. Junell said the Open Meetings Act was not vague, or too broad, or suppressive of free speech.

Oh, but why let a ringing judicial smackdown make you hold your meetings in public, when you can waste some more tax dollars dragging this out?

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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.

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