I Have a Feeling…that Rep. Issa is About to Experience the Waiting Game

Darrell Issa
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The Associated Press reports that the committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wants to get the documents to determine just how well the Obama administration is faring in its transparency effort. The committee is looking for lists of who sought federal documents and what happened to their requests.

Agencies have until Feb. 15 to respond to Issa’s demand. Meeting the deadline could involve a major data dump. AP reports that the Defense Department alone got more than 73,000 FOIA requests last year, and the Justice Department received almost 64,000.


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The Knight FOI Fund is SOOOOOOO Important!

A New York judge, ruling in a case supported by a Knight FOI Fund grant, has ordered disclosure of records sought by a Web publisher and a community activist regarding a volunteer fire company.

But in the same 13-page ruling, Warren County (NY) Supreme Court Judge David B. Krogmann held that many of the meetings of the Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company are of a “social” or “private nature,” and are not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law.

June Maxam, editor and publisher of the North Country Gazette, and Christine Hayes, a deputy zoning administrator and assistant assessor for the Town of Horicon, NY, who represented themselves in the lawsuit filed on Sept. 15, indicated that they planned to appeal the ruling.

Noting that they had represented themselves and therefore had no attorney bills, Judge Krogmann also declined to award the two women reimbursement for their legal fees and expenses.

As offset for the fee reimbursements Maxam and Hayes had sought, Krogmann ordered that copying charges for the records being sought be waived. Maxam disputes the judge’s finding that she and Hayes incurred no legal bills.

Open government advocates expressed dismay over portions of the ruling, although Maxam and Hayes will be getting the records that were at the heart of the legal case after Krogmann completes an in camera judicial review to allow redaction of exempt, personal or private information.

“If they choose to appeal as they say they will, I hope some member of the New York bar who believes in open government will step forward and aid these petitioners in their important legal battle,” said Kenneth F. Bunting, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC).


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This Idea Comes Out of the Swamp Every Year, Like Jason in That Horror Movie…

Lewis County (Washington) officials are supporting a bill that would cut down on the time spent fulfilling expansive public records requests and aid them in recouping money spent doing so.

New legislation, SB 5088 and HB 1300, would give municipalities and government agencies the option to charge labor costs for personnel after five hours in a given month have been dedicated to fulfilling a person’s request for public documents. If the requester doesn’t want to pay, the agency will complete the work within the allotted five hours the next month.


I Like All the FOI Improvement Bills I am Seeing!

A bill setting a time limit for government groups and other public bodies to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests is headed for the state Senate after passing the House unanimously Tuesday night.

House Bill 5, sponsored by Dover Democrat Brad Bennett, would require FOIA requests be granted within 15 business days, unless the request is for large amounts of information, requires legal advice, or the records involved are in storage.

If the deadline is extended, the government agency involved has to tell whoever made the request about the extension within 15 business days.

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An Update to the Charlotte Observer request…

They dropped it, citing the uproar….I am glad. These non-journalistic flights of fancy promise more blowback to FOI than scrutiny of government.



In Hawaii, a Push To Make Government Salaries…secret?

Last year, Civil Beat shared the names and salaries of thousands of public sector employees. This year, the state government is working to make sure that such sharing never happens again.

A bill introduced Friday would make private names and other data currently part of the public record. That data is public under the state’s open records law — the Uniform Information Practices Act.

“I’m not saying the public shouldn’t know … but public employees should not be subject to exposure any more than the private sector,” said Sen. Pohai Ryan, Senate Bill 624‘s primary introducer. She cited potential identity theft and the right to privacy as her rationale for the proposal. “They should not be second-class citizens.”


They Didn’t Ask for Paper….

The Anniston City Council today plans to discuss taking legal action to collect $1,855.40 from The Anniston Star for open records the newspaper requested, but never received in the form requested.

“If the Council is playing games, we’ll take their pointed jab in good spirit,” Star publisher Brandt Ayers said. “However, on substance, there is no debt; nothing in the law or common sense requires us to pay for something that we specifically and repeatedly said we did not want.”

The Star made a written request on Jan. 14, 2010, for e-mails sent by Councilmen Ben Little, Herbert Palmore, John Spain and David Dawson as well as Mayor Gene Robinson over the last three months of 2009. The request specified the documents be sent electronically to Gmail.com accounts set up to receive them.

“We do NOT request printouts of the material,” the request specified.

In February 2010, city manager Don Hoyt delivered to Star editor Bob Davis, who made the request, more than 800 pages of printed and redacted e-mails along with a bill for $1,855.40. Broken down, that bill includes a 50-cent-per-copy fee for 344 pages from an undated earlier invoice, a fee for $10 an hour plus 5 cents per copy for 818 pages of e-mails, $768 for the Hoyt’s time, $412 for legal fees, and $262.50 for services of the city’s Internet provider.

Read more:Anniston Star – Anniston council would charge newspaper 1 855 for public records

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Mississippi House Advances Nice FOI Bill

A bill that passed the Mississippi House on Tuesday says public officials could have to pay fines out of their own pockets if they improperly close meetings that should be open.

Under current state law, taxpayers pay the fine – not the officials themselves.

The bill says the fine could be up to $500 for a first violation and up to $1,000 for any subsequent violation.

The bill also says anyone who denies someone access to public records may face a fine of up to $100 per violation.

The bill passed 119-0 and moves to the Senate. Senators passed a similar bill.


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A Nice FOI story Idea: Light Bills!

Here is a nice little FOI-driven story

Night after night, year after year, this nightside reporter observed lights left on in federal government buildings. So I decided to see just how much taxpayers were spending to keep empty buildings illuminated.

For several months, we kept track of the lights left on in a dozen federal buildings, including the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation and Energy always checking after 10 p.m., each on at least six occasions.

“Turn the lights off. That’s what I do anyway. That’s how I save money,” said one visitor from North Dakota.

Just how much are the federal agencies electricity bills costing you, the taxpayer? First, using the Freedom of Information Act, we requested six months of utility bills for the headquarters buildings of more than a dozen agencies. Then, we asked taxpayers to estimate the price of one month in one building.

‘Whew. $3,000 a month?” one woman estimated.

“$5,000 a month?” guessed a young man from New Jersey.

“Monthly? $5-10,000,” said a man from Virginia.

The low end is about $200,000 a month. The high end more than a million. One month’s electricity bill at the Department of Labor topped a MILLION dollars. That was a bill paid in July of last year. The month before, the department paid a bill of nearly $700,000. And utility costs of that magnitude are not unusual.


Nice Use of FOI in Sports: WVU Coach’s Agreement

An image of the Mountaineer Marching Band form...
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Here is a nice example of the old maxim: always, always ask.

Bill Stewart’s alleged past indiscretions with NCAA rules helped conspire to cost him his future as West Virginia University’s football coach.

The Charleston Daily Mail obtained – through the Freedom of Information Act – the seven-page modified employment agreement Stewart and WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck signed on Nov. 17.

That was four days after the Mountaineers defeated Cincinnati to begin a four-game winning streak at the end of the regular season, but also the day WVU agreed to advance the ongoing NCAA infractions case through the summary disposition process.

The Nov. 17 agreement was amended in a three-paragraph letter on Dec. 7, three days after WVU’s regular season ended. It is under the guidelines spelled out there that Stewart will work the 2011 season as WVU’s football coach.


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