I Think I Described An FOI Request As Leaving “Powder Burns”….

A new piece on the FOI-academic freedom debate from Miller-McClune….

The more I read my own quotes on this issue, the more I recognize what years in academia has done to my brain, for good, and for ill. I tend to overanalyze issues like these when interesting academic questions exists, even if I think they are no more than than — interesting academic questions, the stuff of cocktail parties, tweed coats and good theoretical conversations.

At the end of the day, these are FOI requests, like every other. I support FOI and FOI requesters. Why can’t I just say that?

Because, at the end of the day, such naked partisanship makes me uncomfortable. Yeah. That’s what it is, and it’s my problem, I know. But that’s what it is.

I see FOI in general as this constantly endangered creature, one that any number of interest groups, regulated industries, non-profit associations, to say nothing of public officials from governors to dog catchers would throw dirt on tomorrow with glee, if only they could. And what prevents that?

The bipartisan view that FOI is a good thing, a value worth preserving. Nurturing and maintaining that value when political parties are lobbing these sorts of requests at each other is tougher than ever.

But that’s all academic meandering. See what I mean?


Yeehaw! Huge Win In Wyoming for FOI

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The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled today that the salaries of individual school district employees are a matter of public record.

The state’s high court upheld a Laramie County District Court decision in favor of Cheyenne Newspapers, Inc., which publishes the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

The newspaper in a letter dated Dec. 11, 2009 requested the school district to provide records with district employee names and their salaries.

The request was made under the Wyoming Public Records Act.

The school district denied the request, citing a provision in the Wyoming Education Code that requires the district to publish the salaries of employees by category without reference to the names of individual employees.

The district contended the statute makes it unlawful to disclose individual salaries by name.

The supreme court adopted unanimously the ruling by District Judge Michael Davis, who wrote that construction of the statute as the district suggests “would leave the court with no rational explanation as to why the legislature would want to treat school district employees differently than employees of other public entities.”


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A Look At Utah’s Records Committee…

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This is the first in a series of stories The Slat lake Tribune is doing on the state’s public records law, and it has a great anecdotal opening:

In 1992, the first appeal brought before the State Records Committee under Utah’s newly adopted open-records law came from The Salt Lake Tribune, which wanted the Department of Transportation to hand over a year’s worth of traffic-accident reports stored on nine-track computer tape.

That’s right, nine-track tape.

In the two decades since, the committee has settled about 218 records disputes using the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) to sort out competing interests, even as data moved from tapes to floppy disks to instant messages and email.


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The Academic FOI Story Just Grew Rather Exponentially…

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Talking Points Memo has the news on the latest in the email labor wars, as the issue really heats up the FOI landscape. I’ll say at the beginning what I have been saying on the phone to reporters all day: these are lawful FOI requests from public, taxpayer funded institution. I’m not about to take FOI and put it before some “motives” test…

I’m quite sure there are those who disagree forcefully, but this is a classic case of an immutable property: information is either disclosable under the law or it isn’t, and in this case, unless the e-mails meet statutory exemptions, they are public records. I’ve never once predicated access on the motives of a requester, nor will I….

Here are some of the most important parts of the story…

A free enterprise think tank in Michigan — backed by some of the biggest names in national conservative donor circles — has made a broad public records request to at least three in-state universities with departments that specialize in the study of labor relations, seeking all their emails regarding the union battle in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, TPM has learned.

According to professors subject to the request, filed under Michigan’s version of the Freedom Of Information Act, the request is extremely rare in academic circles. An employee at the think tank requesting the emails tells TPM they’re part of an investigation into what labor studies professors at state schools in Michigan are saying about the situation in Madison, Wisc., the epicenter of the clashes between unions and Republican-run state governments across the Midwest.The requests specifically seek emails from all labor studies faculty at each school.

The think tank is also known for FOIAing state workers, including teachers and professors. In February, it criticized Michigan State for not fully complying with a FOIA request for emails surrounding a plagiarism scandal involving MSU faculty. A recent request was for public school teacher emails that may or may not have mentioned the possibility of a strike. Teacher strikes are illegal in Michigan. That FOIA request was denied, leading to outcry from the Mackinac Center and the Michigan Press Association.

Here is a copy of the FOI request.



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I Think It Was H.L. Mencken Who Said “Governments Lie.”

It’s an FOI request that serves as a perfect example of why we need access to the very documents at issue in Utah….amazingly, what was cited again and again by the lords of darkness was, at best, “an estimate.”

This fabulous story had me laughing out loud —

As Utah lawmakers argued why they needed the now-repealed HB477 to shield more records from public release, leaders repeatedly said their staffers had been swamped by records requests in 2010 and spent more than 400 hours filling them.

But an open-records request from The Salt Lake Tribune shows the Legislature can produce no records to substantiate that claim, and attorneys now say it was an estimate. Related records that do exist suggest that the estimate may have been high.

Also during debates, lawmakers worried aloud that the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) could force disclosure of their personal emails or texts.

However, the documents obtained by The Tribune show that whenever such records were requested recently, the Legislature denied them, saying they were not public under GRAMA (without changes sought by HB477).


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Obama Presses on FOIA. Agencies Ignore Him. More at 11….

Here is a fine example of how presidential leadership on FOIA can lift hearts and minds while doing nothing to move the hands of government

Ahead of a congressional hearing this week on whether senior political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security have blocked the release of some documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act, a series of newly uncensored emails indicates that some staffers complained for months of internal “meddling” by Obama-appointed officials.

Obtained by The Associated Press, the emails describe “crazy” and “bananas!” political reviews of document requests and “constant stonewalling” as files went to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s political staff as part of the pre-release vetting process.

A bit later in the piece:

In one recent instance cited by the AP, immigration rights advocates had asked the department for e-mails that political appointees had sent to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement about a controversial program. The internal search uncovered “embarrassing, crude exchanges” that were revealed not by the senders of those emails but by the recipients.

“Apparently, these embarrassing exchanges didn’t get turned over when the (political) front office conducted its search but they did when the ICE employees copied on these exchanges coughed up the responsive records,” the FOIA unit’s associate director, William Holzerland, wrote in January, the AP said.

Kudwa said that “no responsive documents were withheld” by the department’s political office. The Privacy Office, she added, never requested that the political appointees search for responsive documents on the ICE issue.

The department’s chief privacy officer, Mary Ellen Callahan, herself a political appointee, warned in emails that the department could be sued over the delays sparked by the political reviews. “This level of attention is CRAZY,” she wrote to her deputy in late 2009, musing that she hoped someone would submit a FOIA request on the process itself, the AP reported. Days later, the AP filed a FOIA request for documents related to political vetting and received close to 1,000 pages of censored emails last summer.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/52033.html#ixzz1I01erUXm

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0311/52033.html#ixzz1I015qR4q


Bloomberg’s First Look At The Fed Data It Sued For….

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And, not surprisingly, it’s troubling stuff

U.S. regulators closed Chicago- based Park National Bank in October 2009 when it owed $345 million to one of the lowest-cost lenders in town: the Federal Reserve’s discount window. Park National had been a constant customer at the window for more than 18 months before it failed, records show.

That glimpse into the loan program, gleaned through the Freedom of Information Act, will be expanded this week with an unprecedented view of the secret lifelines the Fed extended to hundreds of banks. Officials plan to release documents that amount to more than 6,000 pages, according to court records. Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, and News Corp.’s Fox News Network LLC requested the records under FOIA, then sued after the central bank refused to release them.

Without identifying them as of yet, Fed officials say all the discount window loans made during the worst financial crisis since the 1930s have been repaid with interest. Cases such as Park National’s show how the lending amounted to a secret public subsidy, with few questions asked.

“Solvency is the big issue,” said Arthur Wilmarth, a professor at George Washington University Law School in Washington. “Was the Fed keeping banks alive when they should have died?”

Banks were able to tap the window for loans at rates below the market after subprime mortgage defaults contributed to record losses for them and credit markets began to seize up.


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