AP: Colorado Government-Funded Cellphone Bill Hard to Figure…

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A nice piece of FOI-driven work from the Associated Press, even if they couldn’t quite put a precise price tag on it…

Colorado officials insist they’re combing through state spending to try to close an estimated half-billion dollar shortfall — but figuring out exactly how much Colorado pays for employees’ mobile devices is nearly impossible, and it’s a tab that largely has gone unnoticed.

And a bit later:

The AP sought public records from 19 state departments for this story.

OIT estimated that Colorado spends about $3.6 million per year on cellphones and other wireless devices, a figure based on multiplying last December’s state bill of about $313,000 by 12 months. OIT officials said it would be impossible to produce annual data for previous years because the information is not centrally maintained. OIT said it happened to have December’s tab but didn’t have other monthly totals available.

Those numbers don’t include employees of Colorado public colleges, whose budgets aren’t centrally tracked, or the state’s 100 lawmakers, who don’t have state-paid phones.

Rep. Jon Becker, a Republican who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, said it should be easier to determine how much the state pays — and for which services.

“Because $3.6 million, if that is the correct (number), and I do not know the correct number at this point, if that is the correct number, it’s not a drop in the bucket,” Becker said.

More at:

http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9M89MEO0.htm

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AP Gets Walker E-Mails, Will Pay Legal Costs

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Nice work, Christa!

The office of Gov. Scott Walker has agreed to a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Isthmus newspaper and the Wisconsin Associated Press over access to emails sent to the governor in response to his “budget repair bill.” The settlement requires the governor to produce the emails and pay attorney fees for the plaintiffs’ costs in bringing the suit.

The settlement calls for the defendants, Gov. Scott Walker and his office, to produce a disc containing these emails next Tuesday, March 22, at or after 4 p.m. It is agreed that the governor will produce emails “in the folders in which they are stored at the time of production.”

In exchange for this access, the media requesters have agreed not to use the names of individuals who have sent emails to the governor in cases where there is reason for withholding them, as when they contain personal medical or financial information or raise a concern about retribution. The requesters also agreed not to use, publish or disclose any home addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers or Social Security numbers that may be contained in these emails.

Attorney Christa Westerberg represented Isthmus and the AP in this action; the governor and his office were represented by Assistant Attorney Generals Clayton Kawski and Mary Burke. The governor’s chief legal counsel, Brian Hagedorn, also took part in the case.

 

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Some good, some bad in AP Sunshine overview

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The full story is here.

More openness in government. Lawmakers across the country, including the Republicans who took control in many states this year, say they want it. But a survey of all 50 states by the Associated Press has found that efforts to boost openness often are being thwarted by old patterns of secrecy.

The survey did find signs of progress in a number of states, especially in technological efforts to make much more information available online. But there also are restrictions being put in place for recent electronic trends, such as limits on access to officials’ text messages.

The AP analysis was done in conjunction with this year’s Sunshine Week, an annual initiative begun in 2002 to promote greater transparency in government. To observe Sunshine Week, which runs today through March 20, AP journalists in all 50 statehouses reported on both recent improvements and the obstacles that still exist in many places.

First, the positive: In Alabama, where Republicans won control of the Legislature for the first time in 136 years, lawmakers can no longer bring up budget votes without warning. And Budget Committee meetings are now streamed live online. In the past, legislative leaders typically wrote state budgets in private.

“The public and the press can know where the dollars are being spent and why they are being spent,” Republican House Budget Chairman Jay Love said of the new practices.

 

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Walker E-Mail Hearing

A soap opera within a soap opera in Wisconsin….just keeps getting better. This was a fabulous FOI request!

About halfway through a three-hour hearing Tuesday afternoon on the lawsuitbrought by Isthmus and the Wisconsin Associated Press over emails received by the office of Gov. Scott Walker regarding his “budget repair bill,” Dane County Judge Patrick Fiedler made it clear he understands what is at issue – perhaps what is at stake – as much as anyone. (Full disclosure: I am a named plaintiff in this lawsuit.)

“It’s obvious to me why the media wants this before the outcome of the budget repair bill is known,” said Fiedler during a scheduling conference that turned into a substantive discussion of the case’s unresolved issues. The former secretary of the state Department of Corrections noted that in his own dealings with the media, he’s noticed that “typically they want the information sooner rather than later, because the root word of ‘news’ is ‘new.’”

Unfortunately, it seemed at times during this hearing that the release of these emails – which Walker has characterized as being mostly positive – might happen later rather than sooner. This even though there was no dispute that they are public records, or that the media requesters and governor’s office were not very far apart in terms of reaching an agreement that could provide access.

At his press conference on Feb. 17, Walker said his office had received more than 8,000 emails in the week since he unveiled his proposal to extract benefit concessions and rein in collective bargaining rights from most public employees. He said the “the majority are telling us to stay firm, stay strong, to stand with the taxpayers.” At another press conference the following day, Feb. 18, he said the number of emails had risen to more than 19,000. This statement was made within an hour of Isthmus hand-delivering a records request; the Associated Press made its own request earlier that day.

The governor’s office did not respond to either request until about two hours after the lawsuit was filed last Friday, March 4, although both the AP andIsthmus sent follow-up e-mails asking for updates as to the status of their requests. At Tuesday’s hearing, this failure to respond was chalked up to “a clerical oversight”; Judge Fiedler, while not doubting this, said it seemed obvious to him that the sending of these responses was triggered by the filing of the suit.

 

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Isthmus, AP File FOI Lawsuit Against Walker

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Isthmus newspaper and the Wisconsin Associated Press today filed a lawsuit against Gov. Scott Walker over his office’s failure to respond to open records requests regarding emails received by his office.

“The governor said he had gotten more than 8,000 emails as of Feb. 17, with ‘the majority’ urging him to ‘stay firm’ on his budget repair bill,” says IsthmusNews Editor Bill Lueders. “We’re just trying to see these largely supportive responses.”

The lawsuit, filed this afternoon in Dane County court, names as defendants Gov. Walker and the office of the governor.

Isthmus made its request by hand-delivered letter on Feb. 18, a day after Walker referred to these 8,000 emails and about an hour before he held another press conference saying the number had since swelled to 19,000, again mostly positive. The paper followed this with two communications with Walker spokesperson Cullen Werwie (the second of which, on Feb. 24, was also sent to Brian Hagedorn, the governor’s legal counsel). Both asked for an update on the status of the original request.

The Associated Press, through reporter Todd Richmond, emailed its request for the referenced 8,000 emails on Feb. 18. Richmond followed this on Feb. 25 with an email to Werwie and Hagedorn inquiring as to the status of his request and asking that it be expanded to include “all emails the governor has received that mention the budget repair bill.”

 

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FOI At Work: 8 Touches of a “Shrek” Glass Enough to Poison a Kid…

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The Associated Press with a nice use of FOI:

Federal regulators leaned on McDonald’s to quickly recall 12 million “Shrek”-themed drinking glasses this spring because they concluded that a typical 6-year-old could be exposed to hazardous levels of the metal cadmium by touching one of the glasses just eight times in a day, according to documents obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Of the four collectibles in the series tied to the hit movie “Shrek Forever After,” the glass depicting the character Puss in Boots, with a predominantly orange design, prompted the recall push.

The investigatory file shows how the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission aggressively turned a tip that the glasses contained cadmium in their colored exterior designs into an assessment that the Puss in Boots glasses posed an unacceptable risk to younger kids.

 

 

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