Ohio Grapples With A Secrecy Epidemic….

Nice overview piece on Ohio’s penchant for keeping secrets:

Ohio legislators created an arson offender registry much like the state’s sex offender registry, supposedly to deter the crime. But unlike the older one, the names of those making the arson list will not be public. That means you won’t know if your neighbor is an arsonist.

Or this:

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled recently that asking for the emails sent to and from public officials is too “ambiguous.”

What’s going on?

Those are just two of many examples of how government is becoming more secretive as lawmakers and the courts turn transparent government to opaque in Ohio.

It means you can’t see what your government is doing or where it’s spending your money or what deals are being cut. In fact, some public officials even want you to pay for accessing what are now free online records – such as the deed to your house or your military discharge papers – if you print them in your own home….

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Utah Highway Patrol Violations: A Nice FOI request…

Mizzou alum Nate Carlisle at it again

Utah Highway Patrol Ford Mustang GT: Greenligh...

Utah Highway Patrol Ford Mustang GT: Greenlight Hot Pursuit Diecast (Photo credit: Phil’s 1stPix)

:

Utah Highway Patrol troopers committed 82 serious violations of policy or state law during three years, according to statistics released by UHP.

UHP found lesser policy violations in 41 other cases. The agency provided the data on Dec. 5, months after The Salt Lake Tribune requested it.

The data cover the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 and represent complaints filed against troopers by the public or colleagues. UHP divides complaints into two categories: Serious violations of policy or state law are called Category I complaints. The lesser cases are called Category II.

The statistics do not specify the transgressions, although a few episodes have been reported over the years.

In 2010, UHP Cpl. Lisa Steed was issued a letter of reprimand for removing her microphone while having a suspect perform a field sobriety test. UHP spokesman Dwayne Baird said that was one of the Category II complaints.

UHP has about 425 troopers. UHP and the Salt Lake City Police Department run neck and neck as the two largest police forces in the state.

The UHP statistics show that the majority of complaints against troopers are found to be without merit. That’s typical for police forces across the country.

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FOI at Work: School Bus Crashes in NY

Nice little FOI request:

New York City school buses were involved in 1,700 accidents last year — an average of nearly five per day, DNAinfo.com New York has learned.

The accidents — all of which were caused by the public school bus drivers, Department of Education records show — resulted in more than 900 injuries, according to safety records obtained through the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

The revelation follows a slew of bus crashes involving special-needs students across the city.

But the DOE would not disclose how many of those injured last year were special-needs students, because it does not keep track of what type of buses are involved in crashes.

Nor does the DOE keep records of how many of the injured were students and how many were other passengers, pedestrians or drivers, DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said.

Feinberg said that any accident involving a school bus is “concerning.”

“We treat all accidents of equal importance and are constantly working on improving our vendors’ accident-reduction practices,” she said.

The records also reveal a troubling pattern about relative bus contractor safety, as some contractors log far more accidents than others, regardless of the amount of routes they drive. The city currently contracts with more than 50 different private bus companies who bid on particular travel routes.

A school bus photographed in New York, New Yor...

A school bus photographed in New York, New York. Bus is a 2000-2001 Carpenter Classic 2000 body with an International 3800 chassis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121210/new-york-city/citys-public-school-buses-were-involved-1700-accidents-last-year#ixzz2FTLCnRX0

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FOI at work: Wisconsin coach was writing love notes to Arkansas AD long before hire…

A shrewd use of FOI in Arkansas

English:

English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

demonstrates, once again, the power of public records on the sports beat…

Strange as it seems, the nuances of the Freedom of Information Act have loomed improbably large lately over Arkansas football, having played a key role in fanning the flames that lapped at both Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino on their way out of town. Now, in the case of new head coach Bret Bielema, his first Fayetteveille FOIA might as well be a rite of initiation.

Unlike his predecessors, Bielema isn’t being pursued for scandal, but rather for a friendly note he wrote his new boss earlier this year – at least two months before the Razorbacks left the rest of the country gobsmacked last week by poaching the architect of back-to-back-to-back Big Ten championship teams at Wisconsin. According to documents released by the university, Bielema actually made contact with Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long in September, when he sent Long a handwritten note supporting his decision to fire Petrino after a motorcycle accident revealed an inappropriate relationship with an athletic department staffer. Reporters picked up the scent when Long mentioned the note from Bielema last week, and on Monday got their hands on the original…

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Classification is broken, report says…

The federal government is classifying information at a rapidly increasing pace

More black holes than a cheesy sci-fi film

More black holes than a cheesy sci-fi film (Photo credit: gary_foulger)

, and every time the CIA, FBI or National Security Agency stamps a document “Top Secret,” it’s risking the public’s right to know, says a report released Thursday by the Public Interest Declassification Board.

The current classification system, the board concluded, is “fraught with problems. In its mission to support national security, it keeps too many secrets, and keeps them too long; it is overly complex; it obstructs desirable information sharing inside of government and with the public.”

The board, an official body of academics, ex-spys and transparency experts appointed by the president and Congress, does not have the power to force changes. Only the president, it says, has the power to force agencies to end an overly cautious culture of secrecy. But non-governmental organizations have questioned the administration’s commitment to transparency, citing its prosecution of people who have leaked confidential documents to the press.

The National Archives have a declassification backlog of 400 million pages just for documents older than 25 years. And as computers suck up more data, the problem is getting worse. At one unnamed intelligence agency, the board found, the equivalent of 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets filled with text is classified every 18 months.

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In Case You Missed It….

Dana Milbank took the Obama administration to task for its hollow talk when it comes to transparency this week in the Post. These are the best minds in the business on the subject, and they are right. Goes to show you that secrecy is a bipartisan value.

From the column:

“My administration,” President Barack Obama wrote on his first day in office, “is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government.”

Those were strong and hopeful words. Four years later, it is becoming more and more clear that they were just words.

On Monday afternoon, open-government advocates assembled in a congressional hearing room to ponder what had become of the Obama administration’s lofty vows of transparency.

“It’s been a really tough slog,” said Anne Weismann of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “The lack of effective leadership in the White House, in the executive branch, has really made it difficult to have more significant progress.”

“They’ve been reluctant to take positions,” said Hudson Hollister of the Data Transparency Coalition, “and translate that to real action.”

 

 

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Secret Watergate Files Released…

The government on Nov. 29 finally released more than 850 pages of once-secret documents from the Watergate political scandal, meaning that only a few more sets of Watergate documents remain sealed…The Washington Post story contain a few nice nuggets:

The files do not appear to provide any significant new revelations in the 40-year-old case that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon and criminal prosecutions of many of his top White House and political aides. But the files provide useful context for historians, revealing behind-the-scenes deliberations by the judge then in charge of the case, U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica, along with prosecutors and defense lawyers…

One new transcript of an in-chambers meeting between Sirica and then-Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in July 1973 shows that the judge revealed secret probation reports indicating that Hunt had cited orders from “very high” Nixon administration officials. Several of Hunt’s co-defendants had previously denied any White House involvement in court testimony, and Sirica told Cox and other prosecutors that he felt the new information “seemed to me significant.

And:

Reports from prison psychiatrists and probation officers also show that four of Hunt’s co-defendants justified their role in the Watergate break-in on national security grounds, saying they were under orders to search for evidence that Cuban government funds supported Democratic party campaigns. Dean said Friday that Hunt once told him that excuse was a ruse used to persuade the others to participate in the burglary.

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