Getting School Superintendent Contracts…And Doing An FOI Audit While You’re At It

What a great FOI twofer! The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Torrington Register Citizen are working on gathering all school chief contracts for Connecticut in order to build a searchable database. They also decided to test the responsiveness of each district under FOI law…

From the lede story:

Amity was one of only two school districts in the state to charge a fee for a copy of the superintendent’s contract and require that the documents be picked up in person, a recent Freedom of Information test done by three daily newspapers shows.

About half of Connecticut’s 149 public school districts responded within 24 hours to the FOI request seeking copies of school superintendent contracts, including Branford, Cheshire, Hamden, Milford, Orange, North Haven and New Haven.

The New Haven Register, The Middletown Press and The Register Citizen are gathering all school chief contracts for the state in order to build a searchable database. The publications decided to also test the responsiveness of each district under FOI law with the project.

The state’s Freedom of Information Act requires a response within four days, but this can be just a confirmation of receiving the request and an estimated time frame for when the documents will be provided. If no response is given by the fourth business day, it is automatically considered a denial and the requester may file a complaint with the state’s Freedom of Information Commission.

Enhanced by Zemanta

A Nice Little FOI Audit by Michigan Students…

No reason why every journalism program in the country can’t do this:

On Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 29, the Spartan Online News Network, powered by Michigan State University journalism students, emailed most of the municipalities and school districts in Ingham County with a simple request. The students asked how many Freedom of Information Act requests these entities had received in each of the five preceding years. They cited the FOIA in their requests.

Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act
 says local government should respond or ask for an extension within five business days. We felt the request could be answered quickly, without straining local clerks. In some cases, this was true. In others, we have not heard back, long after the five-day response period has passed.

Some communities answered immediately, others denied the request and invited us to sue them in Circuit Court, as the law provides. Three, so far, have set fees ranging from $5 to $40 to perhaps more. In one case, we were told that this is just a crummy time of year to follow the Freedom of Information Act.

There is a lack of consistency about how easily governments make it easy for citizens to use the Freedom of Information Act and several reported glitchy email systems or websites. Some small communities have trouble complying with requests and others seem to do OK. In many cases, it might help to centralize FOIA requests.

Ohio Auditor: State FOI Law Sickly…

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost figures that if his office can’t quickly obtain public records, the average Ohioan faces “pretty tough odds.”

Yost today proclaimed that the “public records law in Ohio is alive, but not well” as he released a study of cities’ responses to his office’s request on Oct. 17 for copies of their annual payrolls.

Forty percent of Ohio’s 247 cities failed to provide records within the requested seven to 10 days, a figure that the auditor declared “unacceptable.” Within a month, 77 percent of cities had turned over their payrolls.

Two cities, Niles and Campbell in northeastern Ohio, still have not responded.

State law does not specify a time frame within which public-records requests must be fulfilled, instead using a “reasonable” standard. Yost said cities should be able to provide routine documents within two days.

“These documents belong to the people” and should be made available without delay, Yost said at a news conference that marked “Sunshine Week,” a national campaign to promote government transparency.

More here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

AP: We Sent FOI Requests to 100 Countries, and All We Got Were These Lousy Denials….

The Mother of All FOI Audits is in, and the results are predictably grim. Seems wherever FOI laws are passed, age-old stonewalling tactics quickly set in and mire the process.

A couple of nice nuggets from the complete story:

The promise is magnificent: More than 5.3 billion people in more than 100 countries now have the right – on paper – to know the truth about what their government is doing behind closed doors. Such laws have spread rapidly over the past decade, and when they work, they present a powerful way to engage citizens and expose corruption.

However, more than half the countries with such laws do not follow them, The Associated Press found in the first worldwide test of this promised freedom of information. And even when some countries do follow the law, the information unearthed can be at best useless and at worst deadly.

Right-to-know laws reflect a basic belief that information is power and belongs to the public. In a single week in January, AP reporters tested this premise by submitting questions about terrorism arrests and convictions, vetted by experts, to the European Union and the 105 countries with right-to-know laws or constitutional provisions.

AP also interviewed more than 100 experts worldwide and reviewed hundreds of studies.

Among its findings:

– Only 14 countries answered in full within their legal deadline. Another 38 countries eventually answered most questions, at least providing data.

– Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala confirmed the AP request in 72 hours, and sent all documents in 10 days. Turkey sent spreadsheets and data within seven days. Mexico posted responses on the Web. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension. The FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large section blanked. Austria never responded at all.

– More than half the countries did not release anything, and three out of 10 did not even acknowledge the request. African governments led the world for ignoring requests, with no response whatsoever from 11 out of 15 countries.

– Dozens of countries adopted their laws at least in part because of financial incentives, and so are more likely to ignore them or limit their impact. China changed its access-to-information rules as a condition to joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, to boost the economy by as much as 10 percent. Beijing has since expanded the rules beyond trade matters. Pakistan adopted its 2002 ordinance in return for $1.4 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund. Neither country responded to the AP’s test.

“Having a law that’s not being obeyed is almost worse than not having a law at all,” says Daniel Metcalf, the leading U.S. Freedom of Information authority at the Justice Department for the past 25 years, now a law professor at American University. “The entire credibility of a government is at stake.”

And this one:

Image representing Associated Press as depicte...

Image via CrunchBase

 

Enhanced by Zemanta