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!

Yes. Ask Legislators to Voluntarily Release E-mail. That’ll work….

I admire the idealism here, but wow…

Utah State Senators on both sides of the aisle are trying to make it easier for the public to see what is in legislators’ email inboxes.

Sens. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, and Curt Bramble, R-Provo, have both submitted requests for bills that would deal with legislator’s emails. The efforts were inspired by the fight for documents related to the Legislature’s 2011 redistricting plan, which were being held back until the Utah Democratic Party paid almost $10,000 to cover the cost of putting the records together.

Lawmakers eventually released the documents after news outlets, including The Salt Lake Tribune, requested the documents under the Government Records Access and Management Act, commonly known as GRAMA.

“GRAMA is not working for journalists, the public or the Legislature,” Dabakis said.

Dabakis, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman, said he is working with Bramble on a way to improve access to records, especially email. He says the 1992 law was written before email and electronic communications became prevalent, and the rules should reflect that reality.

FOI At Work: A Fascinating Look at Mizzou’s Move to the SEC…

Right here in my backyard, a really interesting look at the diplomacy, and lack thereof, in big-time college athletics:

In November, Big 12 interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas steeled for battle as the conference that was temporarily placed in his hands continued to fracture. His secret weapon would be a legal document that he could “wave around” in a meeting with Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive with the goal of keeping Missouri in the Big 12.

The lawsuit, slated to be filed in Boone County Circuit Court, never came to pass. But the 12-page draft of a petition for injunctive relief was obtained by the Tribune this month. It charged the SEC with illegally enticing Missouri to breach its contractual commitment to the Big 12 — an effort the suit states was “willful, deliberate and in bad faith” and the cause of “irreparable injury to the Big 12 for which money damages is not an adequate remedy.”

The draft requested an injunction to bar the SEC from accepting Missouri before June 30, 2016, the final day of the current Big 12 member agreement.

West Virginia e-mail proposal dies…

Lawmakers have rejected an effort to revise West Virginia’s open records law, defeating a proposal that aimed to open personal emails sent from government accounts to public scrutiny based on the subject matter.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to reject a bill that would define a public record as any written information prepared or received by a public body, if its content or context relates to the conduct of public business.

Earlier this session, the House of Delegates unanimously approved the change. Legislators have sought to revise the definition since a 2009 state Supreme Court ruling found that the state’s records law did not apply to personal emails sent by a sitting justice and a party in a case before the court.

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FOI At Work: E-mails document Sherrod reaction in White House

A new trove of emails acquired by Judicial Watch show that the White House was intimately involved in managing the fallout from the Shirley Sherrod story, in which the USDA employee was forced to resign after Andrew Breitbart posted a fragmented video of one of her speeches to his website, Big Government.

At the time, then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs blamed Sherrod’s firing onAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and said the White House had been informed but not “consulted” about the firing. In fact, the White House was involved almost from the moment the story broke, and USDA officials understood some of the larger context of her statements before they forced her resignation.

The emails, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the White House both knew about the story from the beginning and signed off on the wording of Vilsack’s statement explaining his acceptance of Sherrod’s resignation the evening it happened.

Some of this timeline was already revealed through an August 2010 Associated Press story, based on interviews with White House and USDA officials, that found “a greater level of White House involvement in the incident than officials initially let on.”

But the emails provide a newly detailed portrait of the panic that beset the USDA and White House as the story gathered steam – panic driven in part by fear of what Fox News would do with it. The emails also show how that panic pushed USDA officials to rush past the partial context that was already embedded in the original video out of worries over how the story would play.

The White House learned there was a problem in the middle of the afternoon of Monday, July 19, 2010. That morning, Breitbart posted a clip of Sherrod giving a speech to an NAACP audience in Georgia in which she recounted a story about not giving a white farmer the “full force of what I could do” back in 1986, writing that it was a “racist tale.”

OK, I still think the Palin e-mail deal was a collossal waste of journalistic firepower, but…

This is kinda cool.