A Great Look at Fed FOIA Logjams…

Today’s New York Times does a marvelous job of looking into the progress — or lack thereof  — in implementing President Obama’s openness initiatives…this is the kind of reporting we need MUCH more of.

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Records: Burn ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, Ohio Pol Says…

A troubling legislative proposal in FOI-Land often involves an isolated example, coupled with narrow self-interest. Here is a beauty in Ohio, courtesy of IndieOnline.com:

A movement by some state lawmakers to significantly curb the penalty for destroying public records comes in direct response to two Massillon-area men who, critics say, are trying to profit from the system.

Ed Davila, of Jackson Township, is awaiting resolution to a records lawsuit in Bucyrus, where he initially was awarded $1.4 million in damages.

Massillon resident Timothy Rhodes’ case, in which he sought $4.9 million in damages from the city of New Philadelphia, is in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Those cases — paired with a slew of similar records requests by the men throughout the state — led to language in the proposed state budget that will protect local governments from large payouts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-8, inserted language into Senate Bill 178 — the state budget — that will cap damages, known as civil forfeitures, at $10,000. State law calls for maximum damages of $1,000 for each destroyed record.

But public-records proponents say the proposal goes too far.

“We are opposed to this measure, though we understand the concern of local governments about those who would profit from wanting a record not to exist — which is the opposite intent of seeking a public record,” Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said in an email. “However, we believe this measure would discourage cases involving legitimate records requests and could actually make it more attractive to a governmental body to destroy a record than fight disclosure of it.”

‘BIG BONANZA’

Seitz, of the Cincinnati area, said he was approached in December by a city solicitor in his district who was concerned about records-destruction cases in Bucyrus and New Philadelphia.

“There are plaintiff lawyers around the state that see this as a big bonanza for them,” Seitz said.

In crafting the language, Seitz sought “joint recommendations” from the state’s County Commissioners’ Association, Township Association, Municipal League, School Boards Association and Ohio Historical Society.

“These are taxpayer dollars,” he said. “To tell these small jurisdictions like a Massillon or a Bucyrus in these fiscally constrained times that they are potentially on the hook for six-figure or seven-figure damages for the routine destruction of records that are old makes very little sense. Why should the taxpayers be subject to that kind of a hit?”

The language also sets a four-year statute of limitations on seeking damages. It widens the class of documents that can be destroyed without approval from the Ohio Historical Society, the state archivist of public records. Attorney’s fees also would be limited to half of the forfeiture amount.

“It’s certainly not a license to destroy records,” Seitz said.

Legislative Calendars: Why A State Secret?

Nice piece on access to legislative calendars. Why the secrecy?

DeMint Files FOIA Request Over NLRB’s Boeing Suit…

From a story in The Hill:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an effort to “bring transparency” to what DeMint says was a partisan decision by the board to sue Boeing.

“The public facts surrounding the complaint raise serious questions about the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act upon which it is based, to say nothing of the troubling appearance of partisan, special interest politics at its heart,” DeMint wrote in his June 6 letter.

The NLRB argues the suit is warranted because Boeing’s 2009 decision to move a production plant to South Carolina amounts to illegal retaliation against striking workers in Washington State. But Republicans charge that the suit is an open attack against right-to-work states like South Carolina on behalf of unions.

DeMint is looking for evidence that the suit was a result of coordination between the NLRB and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and believes he has found it.

A copy of the request can be found here.

Transparency: This Generation’s Magna Carta?

Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation — a great access advocate at a great access advocacy shop — attended the first Global Conference on Transparency Research at Rutgers University-Newark, which brought together two hundred transparency researchers from around the world. Thanks to a post-surgical travel ban, I missed it, doggonit, but I thought I’d pass along his great post, here.

It’s well worthy your time.

cd

Good News From Wyoming…

Efforts to improve Wyoming public records and open meetings laws have moved from conflict to cooperation, members of a legislative committee learned here Friday.

Officials from the Wyoming Press Association, the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and the Wyoming County Commissioners Association sat side by side before the Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Interim Committee and explained recent efforts to work together to produce agreed-upon changes in government access laws.

This is a change in approach for the three groups, which traditionally have been at loggerheads over alterations to the statutes. The most recent occurrence of that was this year’s legislative session, when WAM and WCCA spoke out against legislation that would have, their sponsors said, improved the laws for the subject.

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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