They won a Pulitzer, and now they help citizens with FOI requests…

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A tiny nugget from the LA Times’ winning coverage of the Bell, California scandal

Jeff Gottlieb, one of the two reporters who exposed corruption in Bell, Calif., tells Al Tompkins that “one of our city desk assistants still answers those calls and helps people with their public records filings.” The Times created a public records section on its website that has a primer on disclosure laws and enables reporters and the public to share public documents…

Needless to say, this makes my heart glow.

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Perhaps the World’s First Protest Against FOI?

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If anyone has pictures of protesters with signs from this rally, which reportedly was held today….I’d love to see ’em.

One University of Michigan faculty member wants to make sure university leaders take great care in responding to the controversial Freedom of Information Act requests filed by theMackinac Center late last month.

Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, has collected about 1,600 signatures through a MoveOn.org petition asking people to “protect academic freedom on campus.”

Robinson said he’s asking U-M officials only to follow the example of University of Wisconsinofficials when they responded to similar requests for emails of professor William Cronon. The university did not provide emails that were related to students, potential students, professorial organizations, personal communications, intellectual communications among scholars and communications related to personnel matters, all of which amounted to a denial of the request.

I continue to maintain that faculty opposed to the same transparency demanded of others is wrongheaded.

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The Bad Exemption Factory Just Keeps on Pumping ‘Em Out

And in news of the truly inane…has anyone considered what happens when the death involves, say, a controversial police shooting???

A bill seeking to exempt depictions of deaths from Florida’s public records laws is making its way through the legislature, and freedom-of-information advocates are warning that the repercussions of such a broad measure could be detrimental to the public’s ability to hold law enforcement and government agents accountable.

“It would be harder for the public to know about these kinds of issues, and much harder, if not impossible for any oversight of law enforcement,” says Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit based in Tallahassee. “And not just law enforcement, quite frankly, because this is any video, or any recording of either the killing of a person or the events leading up to the killing of a person. So for example, in the Tampa Bay area a couple years ago we had the Carlie Brucia case where the security tapes that were critical in that case would have been exempt from public disclosure under this bill.” #

Eleven-year-old Carlie Brucia was abducted and murdered in 2004, and the security tapes from a car wash near her home captured a man leading the young girl to his car shortly before she was reported missing.  With the help of technology provided by NASA to enhance the images, the FBI was eventually able to locate Brucia’s killer and bring him to justice.

State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, says her bill stems from the police dashboard video recording of the murder of two Tampa police officers, and was written to protect victims’ family members.

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Open Government at the Federal Level on the Chopping Block…

Short-sighted slashing in Washington

Government transparency advocates warn that spending cuts in the federal budget passed last week could close the door on President Obama’s ambitious “open government” goals and hamper efforts to open up federal agencies to closer public scrutiny.

The budget deal slashes the Electronic Government Fund from a proposed $35 million to $8 million — not nearly enough to keep certain government Web sites operating at current levels, officials said.

The cuts could spell the end of Data.gov, a compilation of hundreds of thousands of government data sets; theIT Dashboard, an ambitious project to track how much the federal government spends on information technology investments; and USASpending.gov, which tracks federal contract spending and was established by a 2006 law sponsored by Obama when he was a senator.

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Nice FOI-driven sports story…Tennessee’s AD Gets Peppered by Donor E-Mails…

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 11:  Head coach Bruce Pear...

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Note to journalists everywhere: sometimes you don’t need names to tell a great FOI tale….

A six-figure University of Tennessee donor called the school’s chancellor an “attack gator” because of his ties to the University of Florida and another called its athletic director “self-serving” and “inept.”

Those comments were among more than a dozen email messages received by university administrators from high-level donors that contained name-calling and threats to pull donations in the run-up to the March 21 firing of former men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl over NCAA rules violations.

One donor sent a one-line email from his iPhone to Mike Hamilton the day after the athletic director hinted at a coaching change during a March 16 radio interview: “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Bad decision,” Hamilton replied. “Previously scheduled interview on different topics, should have canceled.”

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The Folks Behind the WWW Are Unhappy…

Steve Bratt is the CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web. The mission of the organization is to empower people through transformative programs that leverage the web as a medium for positive change.

In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama pledged support for open government initiatives, including the creation of websites that provide access to valuable but not sensitive government data. This initiative promoted transparency, accountability, collaboration and citizen participation by putting government data online. Data.gov was launched in May 2009 as a result, and this incredible site provides nearly 300,000 data sets and almost 1,000 applications developed by government and private enterprise. Government has embraced the web as a platform to provide data to the public and to other entities inside and outside the government sector. Open Government Data (OGD), or government data that can be accessed online and used by others, is a pioneer idea that empowers people and enhances government accountability.

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News From Myanmar…er…Pennsylvania. Trickle-down Fascism Alert…

Not an FOI-related post, but I’d like to also use this space from time to time to highlight what I like to call “trickle-down fascism”: the inexorable creep of authoritarian tin-pot dictators in offices large and small across this great land. Consider it my occasional foray into the absurd. Today’s Banana Republic Moment is brought to you by the Allentown, Pa., school board:

For more than three hours on March 31 the Allentown School Board let children, parents, taxpayers and employees voice their opinions — all negative — on Superintendent Gerald Zahorchak’s plan to cut 247 teaching jobs and 85 courses next school year.

The next school board meeting shouldn’t be nearly as long.

It’s not just because the school board has approved the cuts contained in Zahorchak’s new Program of Studies, but because one group has been ordered to keep negative comments to themselves: teachers.

It seems the powers-that-be in Allentown would like all those fussy teachers to toe the line and swallow policies they find repugnant, all in the interests of appearing to agree with them.

In an email to district principals for distribution to staff, Deputy Superintendent Russ Mayo issued a five-point reminder that employees could be disciplined if they are “making public statements that are inconsistent with district policies and that could serve to harm the effectiveness of district programs.”

In other words, silence! This is trickle-down fascism at its finest: a public official trampling on the rights of public employees in the name of state-enforced orthodoxy. It is profoundly un-American, and these officials should be ridden out of office on a rail. If and when citizens simply refuse to abide by such heavy-handed tactics, our civic life will improve markedly.

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Climate FOI Requests Continue to Create Controversy

A coalition of advocacy groups has asked the University of Virginia to shield some climate change research papers sought under an open records request to the school earlier this year.

That appeal comes in an April 14 letter that urges university officials to balance “the interests in public disclosure against the public interest in academic freedom” in weighing the record request from the American Tradition Institute and others.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, the Union of Concerned scientists and the American Association of University Professors are among the interest groups that jointly issued the letter.

This dispute is the latest chapter of a saga that began when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli demanded similar records from U.Va. in a subpoena-like order to the university seeking materials linked to the grant-funded research of former school professor Michael Mann, a scientist whose climate change conclusions have been alternately lauded and denounced.

His initial demand largely was rejected by a Circuit Court judge in August, through Cuccinelli has appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a revised record demand from the attorney general that the university opposes is pending in circuit court.


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Powerful New Video Demonstrates the Power of Open Government Data…

Need a quick primer on the importance of open government data? Grab a copy of this great new video at Open Government Data.org and you’ll soon have a new convert!

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Obama Visitor Logs: Riddled With Holes

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The Obama administration talks up the importance of government transparency, but White House visitor logs are anything but. That’s according to a new investigation by iWatch News. The White House website proudly boasts of making available “over 1,000,000 records of everyone who’s come through the doors of the White House” via a searchable database. Yet our analysis shows that the logs routinely omit or cloud key details about the identity of visitors, who they met with, the nature of the visit, and even includes the names of people who never showed up.

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