Let’s make sure the Super Committee Isn’t Super Secret…

The wonderful Sunlight Foundation has launched a campaign to make sure that the Super Committee is transparent during its meetings and that the public is aware of all of its operations — in a timely manner.

The campaign includes a nifty transparency resources and public response webpage to provide a better understanding of the issue, Congress’ involvement and the grassroots campaign to open the Super Committee, complete with a great video explainer here.

So what are you waiting on? Go sign the petition! A total of over 5,230 signers from Sunlight, Change.org and Public Citizen, have signed on to a petition make sure the Super Committee is transparent.

Most importantly, a new bill calling for transparency in the Super Committee has been introduced and Sunlight is encouraging citizens to call their representatives to support this bill. To do so, please visit this page.

PR apparatchiks running wild in Washington…

Kathryn Foxhall is a one-woman army. Her blog, PR Office Censorship, is a fresh source of outrage, compiling incident after incident of government minders straight out of a bad Banana Republic…

Her latest?

The Department of Health and Human Services last week released a media policywhich makes it official that staff members and reporters are forbidden to speak to each other without reporting to public information officers and supervisors.
Although over the last 10-20 years HHS and many of its agencies have prohibited staff members not to speak to reporters without PIO oversight, this is apparently the first time in history the agency has put it in writing.
The policy says, “In order to make certain we provide the media the best possible service and information in a timely fashion, it is important that the relevant agency public affairs office be notified of all media calls/contacts that employees receive about their HHS work.”
It further says, “When approached by a reporter, HHS employees should work with their immediate supervisor and coordinate with the appropriate public affairs office/personnel in their agency.”
This, folks, is ridiculous, and Foxhall is organizing a long-overdue pushback. Subscribe to her blog today and start fighting back.

Pennsylvania moves to close autopsy reports…

A bill that would prevent people from seeing autopsy records in the possession of county coroners is on its way for consideration by the full state Senate.

The Senate Local Government Committee voted in favor of the bill Tuesday, 10 months after then-Gov. Ed Rendellvetoed a similar measure.

The only “no” vote was by Lackawanna Democratic Sen.John Blake.

The law would require coroners only to release the dead person’s name, cause and manner of death.

The state newspaper association says the change would make it harder for people to know whether their elected coroners are doing their jobs properly.

The association also says coroners could delay producing even the more limited information until they make an annual filing with the county prothonotary’s office at the end of January.

Justice seeks to keep bin Laden pics secret…

The Wall Street Journal does a nice blog summary of a titanic struggle in FOIA circles:

Justice Department attorneys said the CIA has located 52 photographs and video recordings of bin Laden during the May raid that killed him, but the DOJ contends the images are classified and being withheld from the public to avoid inciting violence against Americans overseas and compromising secret systems and techniques used by the CIA and the military, according tothis AP report. (Here’s an earlier LB post on the hunt for the Osama photos.)

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative group that had sued to force disclosure of the images, issued a statement accusing the Obama Administration of making a “political decision” to keep the bin Laden imagery secret, AP reports. “We shouldn’t throw out our transparency laws because complying with them might offend terrorists,” he said.

Funny…dash cam videos are a public record about anywhere….but Oklahoma.

A Rogers County judge denied a request for the release of a dash cam video recorded by the Claremore Police Department, ruling that under the state’s Open Records Act, the footage is “not a public record.”

Associate District Judge Sheila Condren heard evidence in a nonjury trial in August, according to Tulsa World. Attorney Stephen Fabian was seeking the dash cam video and audio of 20-year-old Richard Stangland’s March arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Arguing for its release, Fabian said that the Open Records Act necessitates the release of the footage. Matt Ballard, who represents the city, told the court that videotapes are evidentiary and subject to the privilege of confidentiality.

Condren ruled that “the Fabian case is distinguishable from the facts presented in the case at bar, and finds the ‘dash cam’ recording is not a public record pursuant to Title 51 O.S. (Section) 24A.8 which is subject to public inspection.”

The Best FOI Tool in the Business Just Got Better!

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today published the 6th Edition of its Open Government Guide, a comprehensive overview of open records and open meetings laws in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The guide is available free on the Reporters Committee website at www.rcfp.org/ogg, where users can cross-reference and compare the laws in different states or simply get an in-depth analysis of one state. A CD version of the entire guide and hard copies of each state’s section also can be ordered from the Reporters Committee for a small fee.

Each state’s outline is prepared by attorney volunteers who are experts in access law; most have worked on earlier editions of the guide.

In addition to updating the material from previous editions, the latest Open Government Guide includes:

  • New categories, including access to government budgets, epidemiological records, and economic development records
  • Significant statute updates, including a new open records law in Pennsylvania and a revised open meetings law in Washington, D.C.
  • More specific category breakdowns on access to email, real estate and investigatory records, which enable users to better find and compare information.
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Every Quote by the Citizens in This Story Should be Bronzed…

Who makes the majority of FOI requests? People like these:

The Iowa Supreme Court this month will review an open-records case involving Riverdale residentsAllen DiercksMarie Randol and Tammie Picton, who for the past eight years have repeatedly fought their city for access to government records and meetings.

The trio of residents has sued the city three times, while the city has taken the residents to court at least four times — all in the name of open records and whether certain information should be made public.

“Riverdale has been kind of a lightning rod for this,” said Davenport attorney Michael Motto, who represents the City of Riverdale in the Supreme Court case. “They want to do the right thing.”
And again later:
“It was becoming a knock-down, drag-out, so the only option we had was to sue,” Randol said. “Lawsuits in this state are costly and not everybody can do it. It’s up to the private individual to come up with the funds to sue. And that’s downright ridiculous.”
Diercks questioned why residents have to uphold Iowa’s open records and meetings law on their own. He said trying to fight for public records is “horrible” and urged the creation of a new entity that isn’t politically involved to intervene and enforce the law.
“Here’s why I wanted budgets and things: …the city has increased my property taxes 109 percent in one year,” Diercks said. “As a private citizen, you’ve got to keep tabs on these things.”
Amen, brother. Amen.