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 http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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April 23, 2017 10:10 PM

Is the nonprofit Northside Hospital Inc. subject to the state’s open records law?

The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments on the high-profile case, which involves Northside’s rejection of requests for information about financial documents and other matters.

Attorney Peter Canfield argued that Northside – a financially successful hospital system based in Atlanta – is subject to the Georgia Open Records Act because it was created by a public hospital authority, which is a government entity, and that it operates solely on the authority’s behalf.

The outcome of the legal battle may have a major effect on the Georgia hospital industry, because Northside’s corporate structure resembles many others in the state.

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April 23, 2017 10:08 PM

The education department is among the least responsive agencies in New York City when it comes to public records requests.

Worse than the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Administration for Children’s Services — and far worse than the NYPD. That’s according to an analysis of a year’s worth of open records requests initially gathered by the Village Voice and subsequently provided to Chalkbeat.

In fact, the Department of Education’s 103-day average response time to public records requests under the state’s Freedom of Information Law makes it the least responsive of more than a dozen city agencies. (The NYPD’s 34-day average response time, by contrast, is three times faster.)

Between April 2015 and April 2016, the education department received 1,071 public records requests. Some were either fulfilled or denied in a matter of days, but nearly half the requests they answered took 60 days or longer to be resolved. Seventeen percent dragged on over six months.

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April 20, 2017 5:44 PM

The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Wednesday seeking documents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection detailing how President Donald Trump’s travel ban was implemented on the northern border.

The suit was joined by five other New England ACLU affiliates. It seeks records from heavily trafficked transportation hubs throughout the region, including airports in Burlington, Boston and Bangor, Maine.

Lia Ernst, staff attorney for the ACLU of Vermont, said the state chapter has received about 10 reports of travelers improperly harassed and turned away at Vermont’s northern border crossings. Ernst said Muslims were among those affected, a potential breach of the Constitution’s religious protections.

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April 20, 2017 5:44 PM

The FOI Foundation of Texas is pleased to announce 2017 guidelines for the Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award contest. The contest is open to newspaper, broadcast and online media. The Spirit of FOI Award recognizes outstanding work in promoting open government and the public’s right to know.

The deadline for submission of entries is Thursday, May 18, 2017. Nominations must be for work published or broadcast in calendar year 2016. A nomination can be a single news story or series; an editorial or series of editorials; columns; editorial cartoons; or a community FOI project. There is a limit of one entry per news organization. Entries will be judged in the following size classifications, and up to two entries will be recognized in each class (a winner and an honorable mention, if warranted).

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April 20, 2017 5:43 PM

FOIA requesters who relied on lists of classified directives published by both the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to know what documents to file FOIA requests for may now be out of luck. In a transparency backslide, both the DOD and JCS websites no longer publish lists of classified directives and instructions, making it impossible to know what to FOIA.

The Defense Department’s “what’s new” listing on its Issuances Website has no notices of classified directives from this year and is (at least) missing instructions from January 2017, even though the site was last updated in April. The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Directives Library, for its part, now sends members of the public interested in controlled directives to a broken URL; before the change the JCS posted a combined list of all unrestricted, limited, and restricted directives.

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April 19, 2017 11:49 PM

Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub Jr. is calling on the chairman of House Oversight Committee to become more engaged in overseeing ethics questions in the Trump administration.

In an interview with NPR on Monday, Shaub said public inquiries and complaints involving Trump administration conflicts of interest and ethics have been inundating his tiny agency, which has only advisory power.

"We've even had a couple days where the volume was so huge it filled up the voicemail box, and we couldn't clear the calls as fast as they were coming in," Shaub said. His office is scrambling to keep pace with the workload.

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April 19, 2017 11:46 PM

Since public access opened over a year ago, FOIA requests for video from Metropolitan Police body-worn cameras (BWC) have numbered just over sixty and redacting those released so far has cost only $25,000.

Those facts, released by the Open Government Coalition in a Sunshine Week briefing at the National Press Club, are far from the alarming estimates provided by the executive branch to the D.C. Council in the heat of the extended camera debate in 2015.

The mayor fought to prohibit public access, in part with forecasts that the District faced sky-high costs--more than a million dollars a year--for new staff to handle time-consuming review of an expected 4,500 requests a year. The projections lacked any foundation, as there was scant BWC experience nationwide at the time. With the small evidence available (that showed nothing like such costs), the Coalition rebutted the estimates and joined many community voices in successfully urging the Council that regular FOIA procedures were adequate to protect all the interests involved.

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April 19, 2017 11:44 PM

The public could soon get a look at confidential reports about errors, mishaps and mix-ups in the nation’s hospitals that put patients’ health and safety at risk, under a groundbreaking proposal from federal health officials.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants to require that private health care accreditors publicly detail problems they find during inspections of hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as the steps being taken to fix them. Nearly nine in 10 hospitals are directly overseen by those accreditors, not the government.

There’s increasing concern among regulators that private accreditors aren’t picking up on serious problems at health facilities. Every year, CMS takes a sample of hospitals and other health care facilities accredited by private organizations and does its own inspections to validate the work of the groups. In a 2016 report, CMS noted that its review found that accrediting organizations often missed serious deficiencies found soon after by state inspectors.

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April 19, 2017 2:27 AM

City Hall wants people to have easier access to things like code violations, pothole locations and other information they're seeking.

Syracuse's innovation office is crafting an open data policy for sharing all sorts of stats on the operation of city government.

Under the new policy, the city would release information on things like outstanding code violations, location of potholes and other data routinely sought by residents. It will also provide analysis of that data and show trends where available.

Currently, access to most of the city's cache of information requires a Freedom of Information request, which goes through the city law department and can take months to process.

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April 19, 2017 2:26 AM

Legislation that would prohibit politicians from using their campaign finance funds for personal use was signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant Tuesday in his state Capitol office.

When the 2017 session began in January, the bill was labeled as a priority by both House Speaker Philip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who presides over the Senate.

Efforts were made to pass similar legislation during the 2016 session, but it was killed in the House. Mississippi was one of a handful of states where politicians could spend their campaign finance funds on personal items.

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April 19, 2017 2:23 AM

A woman was honored Friday for her pursuit of keeping her local government open to the public.

The Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government presented its 2017 Friend of Open Government award to Debbie Miller of Independence, Kansas.

The group says Miller has pressed her local government for openness over the past several years. They say one instance, when she pressed for a copy of the form the city uses to evaluate the city manager's job performance, stood out to them.

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April 18, 2017 1:24 AM

The state attorney's office is now investigating an alleged sunshine law violation at a Suncoast charter school.

This follows an increasingly tense dispute between the school and parents of a former student.

Island Village Montessori School is a remote campus off Clark road. For three years, Jennifer and Jeffrey Buck--parents of 2nd grader Cooper Buck--say they poured time and energy into the school.

"We were a lovely loving family. We planted trees. We loved that school," Jeffrey Buck said. "We loved everything about it and what we did hit a nerve."

That "nerve" Buck is referring to was not one particular incident, but a series of conflicts with the school.

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