E-Mails Show “Cozy” Relationship Between Maryland Guv and Chicken Titan

Another FOI at Work moment:

A national consumer group is alleging emails they obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal an “unnervingly close and direct” relationship between Gov. Martin O’Malley and an attorney for Perdue Farms Inc.

The topics covered in 70 pages of emails between O’Malley and Herb Frerichs, general counsel for Perdue Business Services, run the gamut from chicken waste incineration to wind energy.

Food & Water Watch highlights several exchanges of particular concern, including one from August 2010, when O’Malley is grilled regarding comments made by his press secretary to a local newspaper. The article is about an Environment Maryland petition signed by 55 farmers asking O’Malley to hold large poultry producers responsible for pollution from chickenhouses seeping into the Chesapeake Bay. The comments make it appear as though O’Malley supports the petition, and specifically names Perdue as an example of a poultry giant.

Madison Officials To Examine Their Multitasking After State Journal Nabs ‘Em

Thanks to this story, which revealed that Madison City Council members are emailing or texting colleagues, lobbyists, staff and others during public meetings, led to this welcome piece of news:

Madison City Council members intend to examine rules for emailing and texting during public meetings, and others are calling for a statewide review of such communications and their impact on open government.

The response comes in the wake of a State Journal investigation last week that revealed an unseen flow of electronic communications between council members, staff, lobbyists and others — including real-time conversations on matters before the council — during meetings.

The city should consider new rules through the council’s organizational committee, which already is shaping a council job description and code of ethics, or a special work group, members said.

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Florida Governor Vows to Make E-Mails Public In Record Time Using New System

Hmmmm….I am intrigued by this system, but also kind of tickled by some of the details in the story of its launch:

Gov. Rick Scott launched a new open records program Thursday dubbed “Project Sunburst,” designed to give the public — and the media — access to the emails to and from the governor and 11 top staff within seven days of writing them.

To access the system, click here. Domain and password are “sunburst”.

…It also helps Scott the governor who has struggled to repair his open government-averse reputation. Weeks into office, the governor’s transition staff inadvertently destroyed emails and the governor, wary of the state’s Sunshine Law, refused to use email until eight months into office.

…Even under the current system, MacNamara himself avoids building a public record. A Herald/Times review of five months of the chief of staff’s emails finds that MacNamara prefers phone calls and hand-written notes to email when he communicates.

The governor’s top advisor routinely responds to even mundane concerns by urging others to “come see me” or “call me” to avoid a paper trail. MacNamara said it’s because he’s a bad typist and prefers to have face-to-face conversations.

My ABSOLUTE favorite nugget:

When asked about Sunburst in an email last week, MacNamara replied “it’s a secret.”

$18,500 for three months’ worth of e-mails?

A frequent tactic in the FOI game is the eye-popping fee for redaction and records preparation. I’d like to say this is an unusual price tag, but I’ve run across several similar stories in the past few months:

A group of taxpayers in the Rockwood School District has been told it must pay $18,005 for a public records request, prompting the group to ask the state auditor’s office to review the matter as part of an upcoming audit of the district.

On April 16, the group, which goes by the name Rockwood Stakeholders for Real Solutions, requested copies of 3½ months of emails sent to and from the district email accounts of School Board members, the board secretary, the superintendent and the president of the teachers union.

After informing the group that the request would involve thousands of pages of records, district spokeswoman Kim Cranston asked the group to be more specific.

The taxpayer group responded by saying it was seeking assurance that district email accounts weren’t used to solicit support for Prop R — a $43.2 million bond issue that failed at the polls April 3 — or to endorse any of the School Board candidates. Such activity could run afoul of election law.

 

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.

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.

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