Homeland Security Treasures: Salt Barns !?!

Good grief…

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the state of New Jersey after it refused to release the construction plans for a barn used to store road salt, on the basis that doing so would be a security risk.

The salt barn in question is located in rural Bethlehem Township in Hunterdon County.

According to the complaint, Chiaffarano suspected that the salt barn was built “according to plans that were not approved by one or more governmental agencies.”

Chiaffarano, whose property is located 38 feet from the barn, had no difficulty in obtaining the plans from Bethlehem Township after filing an OPRA request. She wanted to compare the building plans provided by the township to those on file with the state.


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Vermont Bill Seeks to Mandate DUI Video Sunshine

Bennington County Sen. Dick Sears has drafted a bill to ensure video of DUI arrests is a public record following a denial by the Department of Public Safety of a request to release footage of State Auditor Thomas Salmon’s arrest.

Sears, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hopes the bill will make all DUI arrest videos public.

“I don’t know why there should be any discussion about releasing it,” Sears said. “I don’t know what good it does to try and play that game. And I don’t know why it should be $45.”

The legislation, currently in draft form for the upcoming legislative biennium, “proposes to establish that video recordings of roadside DUI stops are public records subject to disclosure under Vermont’s Access to Public Records statute.”

Salmon, a Republican, was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol in November 2009. He pleaded guilty and paid a fine. However, the video recording of his stop and arrest by police was requested during the 2010 campaign by John Franco, a supporter of Salmon’s Democratic opponent, Doug Hoffer.

The Vermont Department of Public Safety refused to release a copy of the video, prompting Franco to sue for a copy of dashboard footage. Washington County Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled just days before the election that the video is a public document and must be released.

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A Great New Transparency Tool on Economic Development

Good Jobs First has added a great new tool for those interested in bringing greater transparency to economic development efforts…

Online disclosure of the names of companies receiving state and local tax breaks, cash grants and other subsidies for job creation is becoming the norm around the country, but there is wide variation in the quality of the reporting and about a dozen states are still keeping taxpayers in the dark, according to a report published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center based in Washington, DC.

Illinois, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Ohio were found to have the best economic development disclosure.

“With states being forced to make painful budget decisions, taxpayers expect economic development spending to be fair and transparent,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “Claims that sunshine would hurt a state’s business climate have been discredited, trumped by people’s rising expectations about government information being online.”

In addition to the report, entitled Show Us the Subsidies, Good Jobs First also released two new online tools relating to state government economic development practices: Subsidy Tracker, a searchable database that brings together subsidy recipient information from numerous state governments; and Accountable USA, a set of webpages on each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia summarizing their track record on subsidies.


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An Update on Tarleton State

Journalists, journalism professors and students, and open government advocates across the nation are tuned in to a drama playing out at Tarleton State University after questions arose whether school policy prevents instructors from telling students to file open records requests. The requests are a frequently used tool among reporters trying to get access to public information.

A meeting this afternoon at Tarleton didn’t clear up much.  Journalism instructor Dan Malone and communications department head Charles Howard met with Provost Gary Peer to discuss the policy. Afterward, Howard said the policy is still being clarified. No changes to the school’s curriculum, textbooks, or methods of teaching are pending until further clarification comes from the A&M system.

“We’re going to get clarification of a clarification,” Howard said.

The hubbub began when Tarleton President Dominic Dottavio asked the A&M system whether an instructor could tell students to file open records request to the school as part of class assignments. Malone’s students have filed open records request while covering controversial activities on campus, such as on-campus crime, expenditures, and phone records.

A&M attorney Andrew Strong wrote a letter to Dottavio on Oct.  27 saying “the answer to the inquiry is ‘no’” — that is, instructors are not allowed to direct students to submit such requests.


Texas courts blocks access to birthdates

The birth dates of about 145,000 state workers are not public record and should be protected to help them avoid identity theft, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The 5-2 ruling overturned previous decisions by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office and trial and appeals courts.

The case stems from a 2005 dispute between the Dallas Morning News and the state comptroller’s office when the newspaper requested an updated state employee payroll database.

The state released most of it with full name, race, sex, salary, agency, job description, work address, pay scale, employment date and work hours for each employee, but then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn withheld birth dates.


Wolf data exempt under FOIA, says court

Gray wolf (Canis lupus).
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Environmental groups are not entitled to specific locations of where wolves have killed cattle, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In a unanimous decision, the court said the specific data sought by the organizations is exempt from disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The judge said that means the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has the information, can keep it secret.

Thursday’s ruling met with disappointment from members of the groups. They said the data is needed to provide crucial information they believe ultimately would help preserve Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

The wolf was reintroduced to eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in 1998. But efforts to preserve it in the wilderness often have run headlong into the concerns of ranchers when the animals prey on their cattle. What happens, according to Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, is that wolves which are linked to cattle deaths are relocated — or shot. He said the last census at the beginning of this year found only 42 animals in the wild, a 19 percent decline from the prior year.


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Talk about bad ideas….

The Virginia FOI Advisory Council is in the crosshairs….

Supremes Hear FOIA Case

West face of the United States Supreme Court b...
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The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the government’s broad use of an exemption in the federal Freedom of Information Act to withhold documents from the public.

The justices heard argument in an appeal from Glen Milner, a Washington state resident who sued under FOIA for maps showing the extent of damage expected from an explosion at the Navy’s main West Coast ammunition dump on an island near Port Townsend in western Washington.

The Obama administration is defending the decision to deny Milner the maps under a provision of FOIA that exempts from disclosure documents “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.”

Chief Justice John Roberts said the administration was asking the court “to torture the language in FOIA” to keep the documents from being made public. Roberts also noted the public’s frustration with FOIA, even when the government is willing to turn over material. “It takes forever to get the documents,” he said.

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Outrage of the Day: Texas A&M

I feel an Aggie joke coming on…and I have NO animus for Aggies, but jeez, this is stupid.

From the story:

A program that teaches college journalism students about using public information laws has run into an ironic dilemma. Teachers at one of the state’s largest university systems can be disciplined — even fired — if they ask students to file an open records request with their school.

While a spokesman for the Texas A&M University System said Tuesday the rule does not prevent students from getting public information, an official with the organization sponsoring the program called it an unlawful policy that censors the public’s right to know.



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