Bed Bugs and the Pathology of Secrecy

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the ...

An adult bed bug (Cimex lectularius) with the typical flattened oval shape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here is a textbook example of why sometimes secrecy seems like the right thing, when in fact it is precisely the wrong thing…

A bill that would shield certain bed bug data from public records law in an effort to encourage voluntary reporting passed in the House this morning.

House Bill 2131, which now heads to the Senate, passed on a 55-1 vote.

Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, said that bed bug infestations are a growing health concern in Oregon.

“Here’s the bill that you have been itching to vote on,” Kennemer told lawmakers on the House floor.

Under the bill, bed bug infestations reported by pest control operators to a public health authority would be kept confidential. The location of the infestation, identity of the property owner and information describing the infestation would be exempt from public records law.

Public health officials say that it would encourage voluntary reporting for data that is currently difficult to gather.

Pest control operators are not required to report bed bug infestations. If the information was released to the public, it could jeopardize the operator’s business with clients, supporters say.

“Collecting this new data allows public health (officials) to make data-driven decisions about prioritization of scarce resources for bed bug education, mitigation and assistance,” Kennemer said.

So, to translate: we have a public health concern. It could cause very real shame to those who have an infestation…so, if we keep this information from the public, it will incentivize those in arrears to clean up their act.

Nothing — absolutely nothing – supports that assumption. Logic defies it. And yet it emerges over and over in FOI issues: “hide it, and it will get better…” I am itching just thinking about it.

 

A Riveting Tale of Illicit Email Use…

You just KNEW it was a problem…but the saga in Mew Mexico lays bare the reality of the chicanery inherent in state FOI laws that remain silent on the issue of using non-governmental email accounts:

In June of 2012, the political press corps in New Mexico acquired a batch of interesting emails written by some of the highest-ranking members of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff. The emails were being released by Michael Corwin, a Democratic operative who once worked on opposition research for former governor Bill Richardson.

The documents did not cast Martinez’s administration in the best light: They showed administration officials compiling lists of non-union teachers for the governor’s outside political director, moving meetings with lobbyists to locations considered more discreet, and planning fishing trips with industry executives. Many of these emails involved state business—but they were sent from officials’ private email accounts.

Soon, reporters obtained hundreds more emails, all showing public business being conducted from Yahoo, Gmail, and political PAC accounts. Many of the emails came from Corwin, who said he gained access to them through a source who had bought the Internet domain Gov. Martinez used in her 2010 campaign—and all its related contents, including records of emails sent after the campaign had ended from related PAC accounts.

It’s a heck of a story. Read the rest here.

As the story concludes…it’s an ongoing problem:

The New Mexico officials’ use of private email is just one example of public servants trying to dodge scrutiny by conducting government business in a digital space they believe is safe from the public eye. Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal have all gotten in trouble for it. In Washington, DC, a lawsuit just pushedthe city council to stop the practice. Local officials have tried it in Texas and California as well. And while the majority of states have ruled that these private emails count as public records, as the Santa Fe Reporter’s experience shows, it’s not always that simple to get ahold of them.

Someone in Topeka got a wee bit happy with the redaction Sharpie…

This is just a hoot…and it underscores a point I make all the time: when you are denied access to information, it is a story in and of itself! Look how much mischief these reporters are making:

Topeka city manager Jim Colson’s emphasized commitment to transparency isn’t evident in the city’s response to information requests.

Colson repeatedly has expressed the importance of government transparency since taking office in August. A recent test of that transparency resulted in the city releasing dozens of pages of redacted emails.

The results have been similar in multiple other Kansas Open Records Act requests made by The Topeka Capital-Journal in the past few months, as access to police reports and other information was denied.

The Capital-Journal requested — and paid $260 toward — access to emails from Colson’s first 15 weeks in office. Instead, the newspaper was charged $182 for one week of emails, nearly all of which had the text completely blacked out.

Topeka staff members, including Colson, said the request was too broad and called it a “waste” of city resources.

The response has solicited criticism from open government advocates and city council members.

“This kind of reaction to an open records request is the kind of response you would expect from a totalitarian regime, not the city of Topeka,” said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. “We understand there are some reasons for e-mails to be redacted, such as protected discussions of legal matters and some personnel information, but more than 75 percent of the pages were blacked out. That is incredible.”

Other requests made within the past three months that have been denied by the Topeka city attorney’s office include:

■ Access to videotapes seized by the Topeka Police Department relating to the Dec. 24, 2011, fatal shooting of a Hudson Liquor store clerk. The request was denied despite the case having been concluded with the killer’s sentencing in November.

■ Documents the Topeka city attorney’s office has produced since May 2004 addressing whether Topeka’s city council-manager form of government was approved in an illegal vote. The request was denied because the only documents responsive to the request were internal drafts.

■ Three requests made within the past month of defensive action reports from the Topeka Police Department. Two were denied, and one was returned with the officers’ names redacted. A court ruling in a recent Topeka Capital-Journal lawsuit indicated the department couldn’t strike out the officers’ names, but the decision only applied to that case.

Much, much more redaction here. And if you want a peek look at these blacked-out records!

Missouri Lawmakers Get to Work on Sunhsine Bill…

What began as a debate Monday on a bill to reinstate expired security exemptions in the Missouri Sunshine Law turned into an attempt by one senator to expand access to records.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, brought up Senate Bill 139 for debate on the Senate floor Monday afternoon. Under Kehoe’s bill, exemptions for security planning and response guidelines by governmental bodies will be put back in place. The exemptions, put in place more than 10 years ago following the September 11 attacks, expired at the end of 2012.

Only a few minutes after debate began, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, took to the floor to offer an amendment to, in his words, strengthen the law. The amendment makes it easier to sue public bodies for violations of the law and requires 48 hours notice of public meetings, rather than the current 24 hours….

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis, introduced an amendment to the amendment to require closed meetings to be tape-recorded. The tapes would only be reviewable by a judge when trying to determine if a violation of the Sunshine Law had occurred, Sifton said.

The bill also reinstates the security exemptions.

Virginia unleashes the worst FOI bill in recent memory…

Make no mistake about it: this bill is an unmitigated disaster, an epic reversal of the presumption of openness that forms the basis of public records law. If you know anyone in Virginia interested in access to information, please help sound the alarms, for this is as bad as it gets!

A bill speeding through the state legislature upends a major tenet of information access, say the foes of the measure.

House Bill 1524 seeks to reverse the “open unless closed” presumption of the Freedom of Information Act to make the law “closed unless open,” according to Megan Rhyne, executive director for the Virginia Coalition for Open Government.

Rhyne and Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association, spoke out against the bill when the senate FOIA subcommittee took up the legislation Wednesday. The panel reported the bill to the Committee on General Laws that meets on Monday…

Current law states that information related to children participating in state or local parks and recreation department programs is public record unless a parent opts out of disclosure, according to Rhyne. Such departments began providing “opt out” boxes on registration forms for parents to check off for their children since the state enacted the law in 2004.

“This one flips [the presumption] on its head so that the default rule is these records about children in parks and rec are closed unless somebody flips the switch to make them open,” Gernhardt explained.

Stanley stated in an email Wednesday that, under FOIA, records and meetings remain open unless specifically stated as an exemption. Even then the custodian of record may choose to release the information. Likewise a public body can choose not to close a meeting. Such rules pertain to information in school directories, according to Stanley.

“Unfortunately, the senators that heard testimony this morning were voting with their hearts (it was all about the children) instead of trying to understand the code section (2.2-3705.7-22) that already gives proper protection to the participants as long as the opt out box is checked on the registration form,” Stanley states.

Rhyne and Stanley also have testified that such a change to the philosophy of FOIA could set a precedent and open the door for similar alterations, Gernhardt said. The attorney indicated he couldn’t predict whether such legislation would lead to further changes in the state law.

Del. Ronald A. Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, sponsored the bill in the house where it met almost no opposition. The House of Delegates on Jan. 25 passed the bill by a 96-1 vote. Delegates representing the Northern Shenandoah Valley voted in favor of the bill’s passage. Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, did not vote.

No incidents have been reported since 2004, according to Rhyne, who, in a coalition newsletter, also refutes claims that this legislation would enhance protection for children. Games and practices are held in public places; rosters and schedules are freely distributed and shared with participants, according to Rhyne. Schools often provide directory information for all children whose parents have not opted our and then share that with school families. In fact, the Family Educational and Rights Privacy Act stipulates that director information is open to the public.

Parent-teacher associations routinely share children’s contact information to vendors of school-related products and services. Newspapers publish honor roll lists and congratulatory messages that name children, Rhyne notes. Commercial entities often share children’s contact information through magazine subscriptions and video game registration. Privately run sports leagues publish participant information that coaches, teachers or vendors can use, according to Rhyne.

ProPublica Takes a Look at Obama Transparency, or Lack Thereof

A nice analysis piece from my pal Jennifer LaFleur:

After eight years of tightened access to government records under the Bush administration, open-government advocates were hopeful when Barack Obama promised greater transparency.

Four years later, did the president keep his promise?

“It’s a mixed bag,” said Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a consortium of right-to-know groups. “I think they’ve made progress, but a whole lot more remains to be done.”

The rest of the piece is here.

Gun permit secrecy spreads to Arkansas…

Arkansas’ state senate has passed a bill banning the release of gun owners’ names and ZIP codes, the only information currently available to seekers of public records under the state’s Freedom of Information law.

“Republican state Senator Bruce Holland, the bill’s sponsor, said he introduced the legislation after a constituent contacted him with concerns about the Journal News’ actions,” Suzi Parker reports. The suburban New York paper published a map of local gun-permit holders in late December, a move that caused New York state to tighten access to the records. The Journal News removed the map last month.

Nicholas Stehle of the gun-advocacy group Arkansas Carry said the names and ZIP codes of gun owners are “more information than I’d be comfortable sharing if I were a single woman with an abusive ex-husband.” Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe opposes the bill, which now goes before the state house of representatives, in which Republicans have a small majority.

On Monday, Arkansas approved a law allowing people to bring guns into churches.

Now here is an SEO-friendly FOI story: Washington Man FOIAs Stripper Info

This ought to do wonders for my analytics:

How much is too much information?

A Tacoma man is asking for a pile of personal information on adult dancers throughout Pierce County.

Despite his criminal past, Robert Hill claims he is legally entitled to know what the dancers look like and potentially where they live.

In an exclusive interview inside a holding cell, Hill revealed why he wants this information so badly.

“Anything that combines sex, money and politics — I’m on it,” Hill said.

Hill said he wants to help adult dancers in Pierce County become big stars with social media.

“They can absorb it, they could ignore, they could act on it. Until they hear it, they’re not able to benefit from me,” he said.

Want more? Sure you do. Read the whole story here.

Nebraska Lt. Gov. Resigns in Wake of FOI-driven news…

Wow. This is a really obvious example of why transparency of things like taxpayer-funded cell phones is an important thing:

Rick Sheehy’s long, late-night cell phone calls most often were directed at two former elected officials, both widely known in their communities.

An investigation by The World-Herald found that Sheehy’s most recent flurry of calls was directed at Michele Ehresman, the former head of the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and a former school board president there.

Ehresman, 40, who was recently divorced, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview in recent days…

An investigation by The World-Herald discovered that Sheehy made 2,300 late-night telephone calls to the women on his state-issued cellphone, many of them long conversations held in the wee hours of the night.

Many of Sheehy’s long conversations with the women were held late at night or in the early morning hours. Sometimes, he would call more than one woman a night, sometimes three different women.

Nice FOI get by the Texas student paper…

The Daily Texan broke some news today thanks to some reporter’s brilliantly simple FOI request:

Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” in 2009, according to a statement released by UT men’s head athletics director DeLoss Dodds on Friday night.

The incident took place during the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, when Applewhite served as running backs coach. The identity of the student was not revealed…

The story was made possible thanks to an FOI request for a letter from UT’s athletic director to Applewhite outlining his punishment for the incident: the department froze Applewhite’s salary for the rest of the year and required him to schedule an initial session with a licensed professional counselor.