The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit

July 6, 2017 4:04 PM

Public records are your window into local government. On Wednesday, July 12, journalists from The Lens will be joined by public-records attorney Scott Sternberg to explain how you can use public records to hold your government agencies accountable and how to get those records. They will also explain what government records can tell you, why you’re entitled to see them, and how to get them. Continue...

July 6, 2017 3:44 PM
It should have been a simple fix to Colorado’s Open Records Act, but instead it became a complex political negotiation that was almost derailed.
Thankfully Colorado lawmakers were able to wrangle Senate Bill 40 back into a six-page, manageable piece of legislation requiring that government entities release records in digital formats that are searchable and sortable if the data or information is already in that format.
State Sens. John Kefalas and Bob Gardner and Rep. Dan Pabon made a few concessions in the bill to get it through a divided legislature on the issue, but all of the changes seem, at face value, to be reasonable. We are glad the lawmakers abandoned a version of the bill that we worried had become so heavily amended it could have opened up the floodgates for denials to legitimate public-records requests. Continue...
July 5, 2017 4:11 PM
Fifty years ago today, Washington witnessed a revolution. The Freedom of Information Act went into effect, establishing Americans' right to know.
FOIA was a breathtaking accomplishment, the end result of a 12-year effort by John Moss, a Democratic congressman from California. The bill established that any citizen -- anyone, not just officeholders or journalists or well-connected insiders -- could ask the government for information, and the government had to respond. Every citizen had a right to know what the government was up to.
The act was part of a massive power reversal in the flow of information between citizen and state. In the 1960s and 1970s, the right to know grew alongside the right to privacy, twin efforts to enlarge government transparency and personal privacy. They were a response to a government that jealously guarded its own secrets while rifling through the personal lives of millions of Americans (a state of affairs that should sound familiar to anyone who's followed the last 15 years of American politics). Continue...
July 5, 2017 3:45 PM

How much information should the public have about members of the General Assembly? And how should they go about getting it?

A public records request for details of a state senator's Facebook page opened a can of legal worms in Henrico County. A judge determined that the clerk of the Senate, not the state senator, should be responsible for failing to comply with the request. Michael Matheson represented Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavnat. “Unfortunately because of the technical grounds on which the case was disposed of, we don’t have an opportunity to really look at the interesting issue here, which is whether or not when a third party makes a post on a private Facebook page whether you can send a FOIA request for that.” Continue...

July 3, 2017 2:37 PM

Sometime soon, a Stearns County judge will review about 168 pages that Patty and Jerry Wetterling have asked to keep out of the public eye.

The Stearns County sheriff was set to release on June 5 the entire 56,000 pages of its closed investigation into the 1989 abduction of the Wetterlings’ son, Jacob. The attorney for the Wetterlings, Doug Kelley, persuaded a judge to stop that from happening to prevent the release of a small number of those records that involve details of “the inner workings” of the Wetterling family, according to a court filing.

They argue those records should remain private due to privacy protections in the U.S. and Minnesota constitutions. When Stearns County Attorney Janelle Kendall declined to push for the release of the documents, a number of media and open government advocacy organizations intervened rather than abandon Minnesota’s public records law. Continue...

July 3, 2017 2:18 PM

Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act leaves the public in the dark when it comes to collective bargaining negotiations, but two state Senate bills could shed some light on these closed-door meetings.

Two Republican senators from Lancaster County have each submitted bills that would change the state’s open records law and open government union negotiations to public review, but local and state officials say the bills would stop talks before they get started.

Senate bills 503 and 504 would require negotiations between unions and elected officials be held in public and allow any documents related to the negotiations available through Right-to-Know requests, respectively. Continue...

July 3, 2017 2:08 PM

Tech-oriented and data-savvy folks soon will have the chance to dive deep into a new Charlottesville portal that will disclose public information about policing, property, traffic, parks, demographics and the environment.

The launch of the city’s open data portal later this summer is part of an initiative that started last year to make the city government more transparent and encourage the growth of the city’s tech industry.

“This is a really cool project,” Mayor Mike Signer said moments before the council unanimously adopted an official open data policy last month. “This will put us at the leading edge of governments doing this kind of thing.” Continue...

June 30, 2017 3:42 PM

After a two-year effort led by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday voted to release two bills that would update and expand New Jersey’s transparency laws.

One would create a new public finance website for the state as an expansion of the Open Public Records Act and reconstitute the Government Records Council that deals with OPRA complaints (S1046). The other bill would expand necessary notices for public meetings, including more online notification, as an update of the Open Public Meetings Act (S1045).

According to Weinberg, she has been working with a number of stakeholders over the past several years to make changes to the original bills that stalled in committee in 2015. She said that the new legislation reflects compromise between her and groups including the League of Municipalities and the Municipal Clerks Association of New Jersey. Continue...

June 30, 2017 3:31 PM

The New York Police Department has entered into a stipulation and judicial order that commits the NYPD to complying with requirements of New York’s Freedom of Information Law that it has systematically flouted for more than a decade.

Since 2006, state FOIL law has required government agencies to “accept requests for records submitted in the form of electronic mail and shall respond to such requests by electronic mail,” if requested to do so, to provide responsive records when it’s reasonably able, and to publish on their websites an email address to which records requests can be sent. For more than a decade, the New York Police Department has operated in violation of each of these provisions of state law. But in settling a lawsuit brought by Keegan Stephan, a law student and activist, the NYPD has committed itself to finally bringing itself into compliance. Continue...

June 30, 2017 3:05 PM

A proposed town policy for the release of public information includes a $10 minimum charge for most requests.

The plan will be the subject of a hearing at a July 11 Town Council meeting.

Mount Pleasant's proposed fee schedule for fulfilling Freedom of Information Act requests includes the minimum charge for retrieving information and a 25 cent-per-page photocopy fee, both of which Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association and The Post and Courier, found troublesome. The town would also charge for staff time needed to fulfill requests, except in some cases, such as recent police reports requested in person.

"I don’t think you can impose a minimum fee," Bender said. "I also think the 25 cents a page is in excess of the prevailing commercial rate in Mount Pleasant." Continue...

June 29, 2017 1:23 PM

The Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously sided with open government advocates Thursday in a closely watched case over when meetings should be open to the public.

The court ruled that the Appleton school district improperly closed the meeting of a committee charged with reviewing course material. A parent in the district who had wanted to attend the meetings sued and lost in lower courts before the state Supreme Court sided with him.

"Today's decision reaffirms that the open meetings law is to be interpreted literally in favor of transparency," said attorney Rick Esenberg with the conservative law firm Wisconsin Law and Liberty, which fought the district's decision. Continue...

June 29, 2017 1:00 PM

Attorney General Lisa Madigan today joined with nine other attorneys general to demand information and documents from the federal government concerning the detention and deportation of immigrants following the administration’s executive orders on immigration and reports that show immigrants have been unlawfully detained, causing even greater fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities across the country.

Madigan and the attorneys general issued Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), seeking information related to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, arrests and detentions of individuals at sensitive locations, including courthouses and hospitals, and ICE or CBP detainer requests and databases.

The FOIA requests were prompted by fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities caused by the executive orders on immigration. Recent reports indicate people in immigrant communities are withdrawing from their communities in an effort to avoid questioning by authorities, including victims and witnesses not reporting crimes or cooperating with law enforcement agencies, parents afraid to send their children to school, and people avoiding necessary medical treatment. Madigan and the attorneys general believe the “chilling effect” of these new policies on immigration undercuts public safety, health and welfare. Continue...

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