Text messages would be subject to sunshine under South Dakota bill…

Three open government proposals drew a mixed reception from a legislative committee as the third week of the session came to a close Friday.

One bill, extending open meetings laws to cover email and other textual exchanges by members of public boards, passed on a 7-6 vote. It now heads to the full House of Representatives, where proponents said they anticipate a tough battle.

Another measure, opening up more information from complaints and hearings that might be derogatory toward individuals, was killed unanimously.

A third bill, clarifying current law, passed 10-2.

The textual exchange bill, House Bill 1113, was intended to make it clear that if public boards hold substantive exchanges and discussions about public policy by using email, text message or other electronic written communication, those exchanges are public.

On the sunshine soap opera playing out in California…

NFOIC chief Ken Bunting puts the dispute into perspective:

City councils, public commissions, county and school boards and special district governing bodies in California may continue to hold their meetings in the figurative “sunlight,” as well they should.

But in an action that has received little notice except for niche blogs, the 59-year-old “Brown Act,” the state open meetings law that compels them to hold most deliberations, discussions and decision-making sessions in public, was largely eviscerated four weeks ago.

The legislature had its reasons — too little money, supposedly — and I will try and restrain my inner cynic and its tendency to see more sinister motives. But a series of recent events provides a sound and ample context for those suspicions.

Five months before the Legislature suspended key provisions of the Brown Act, the district attorney’s office in Los Angeles County informed the Board of Supervisors that a meeting it had held behind closed doors with Gov. Jerry Brown was a clear violation of the state’s open meeting law. The DA took no follow-up action. And, while government leaders in the most populous county in the nation’s most populous state may have been a bit chagrined, their public posture was anything but apologetic.

Then, just two months before the Legislature gutted the Brown Act, Los Angeles County settled a lawsuit brought by Californians Aware (CalAware), a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes governmental accountability and openness, over that meeting with Brown–and two other illegal meetings last September…


Madison Officials To Examine Their Multitasking After State Journal Nabs ‘Em

Thanks to this story, which revealed that Madison City Council members are emailing or texting colleagues, lobbyists, staff and others during public meetings, led to this welcome piece of news:

Madison City Council members intend to examine rules for emailing and texting during public meetings, and others are calling for a statewide review of such communications and their impact on open government.

The response comes in the wake of a State Journal investigation last week that revealed an unseen flow of electronic communications between council members, staff, lobbyists and others — including real-time conversations on matters before the council — during meetings.

The city should consider new rules through the council’s organizational committee, which already is shaping a council job description and code of ethics, or a special work group, members said.

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FOI Ombuds May Not Be Perfect, But Here Is Why They Beat Nothing Hands Down…

School officials deny access to information, and cite no exemption for doing so. In steps the access counselor…

After The Tribune filed a complaint with Indiana’s public access counselor, a School City of Mishawaka official said the district will now comply with a legal requirement to provide the media with certain public records before school board meetings.

At Superintendent Terry Barker’s direction, Mishawaka schools has consistently declined to provide The Tribune with what’s known as the “personnel report” prior to school board meetings.

The document lists employee hirings, resignations and leaves of absences, among other things, that the board is asked to vote upon.

The Tribune previously requested that Barker cite the legal code that supported his refusal to provide the report and his requirement that The Tribune say why it wanted the records. Barker didn’t offer legal support for his position.

Joseph Hoage, Indiana’s public access counselor, issued an opinion stating Mishawaka schools violated the Access to Public Records Act by refusing to cite a specific exemption authorizing the withholding of the record and by requiring a reason for requesting the record.

In a letter to the public access counselor’s office, Barker wrote, “Based upon this clarification, the personnel report will be provided to the news media along with customary items that are part of the board meeting packets distributed.”

When contacted Thursday, Barker said he wasn’t trying to be difficult by previously denying The Tribune’s regular requests for the document; he simply thought it was an exception to the records that are legally required to be released.

Hands Off the Smartphones, During the Public Meeting

Looking for a Facebook status update or email during the next big vote by the Royal Oak City Commission or Sterling Heights City Council? Don’t.

A handful of communities in southeastern Michigan are asking local lawmakers to keep their hands off their smartphones or iPads at council meetings, banning them from communicating electronically with each other or the public while government business is being conducted. That means emailing, blogging, texting or any other form of electronic communication is off limits.

Supporters say the issue is about transparency and integrity, not to mention common courtesy. They argue email or even text conversations could violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which requires decisions and most deliberations to be public.

“It’s about maintaining the integrity of this council and future councils,” said Maria Schmidt, a city councilwoman in Sterling Heights, which amended its council governing rules earlier this year to ban electronic communication during meetings.

But critics of the bans say technology helps these officials do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. They call the bans “short-sighted.”

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110706/METRO/107060351/Councils-ban-text–email-by-lawmakers-at-meetings#ixzz1RLUEC4CJ

Quite possibly not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they talked democracy…

Bricks in a wall.

Image via Wikipedia

This story is just crazy awesome. Seems the Regents at Rutgers had a crowd fairly upset with them the other night over, well, I don’t know…an issue of university import. So their response? They built a wall between themselves and the crowd!

I would have given anything to be at that meeting…and I so hope that other university administrators are not taking notes.


My favorite section:

“I don’t know how you conduct a meeting with people shouting at you,” he said.

Yeah, I have no idea…wait…what if you let the students and faculty speak?

Three members of the press, including a reporter from The Star-Ledger, were allowed to remain inside the meeting room before it was sealed.

So, what was it like to be in the little meeting bubble? This is simply the greatest Sunshine Law violation in the history of mankind…



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