Transparency Watch

Mississippi Ethics Commission rules in favor of records request for text messages

The city of Tupelo, Miss. violated open-records laws by not providing the Daily Journal with text messages it requested last year.

The paper had requested the texts from the mayor's personal cell phone over the course of three days last October, when a city official resigned, the Journal wrote.

The Mississippi Ethics Commission all agreed that the mayor's texts were considered open records under state open records laws.

"'Any text message used by a city official in the conduct, transaction or performance of any business, transaction, work, duty or function of (the city), or required to be maintained ...

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Sunshine Week: A look at what's coming up in freedom of information legislation

In many states, recent or pending legislation could impact the transparency of public information. Though several states are taking strides to make public records more open and accessible, a few seem to be adding obstacles to obtaining public information. Here's a breakdown of what's happened in recent months and what could be on the horizon.

AlabamaSB 191, which passed the Senate in February and is pending in the House, would amend the Open Meetings Act. The bill is chiefly concerned with regulating “serial meetings.” These meetings are used to deliberate an issue, but require no quorum or ...

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Sunshine Week coverage of open government violations, FOI laws and more

To celebrate Sunshine Week we'll be sharing exclusive audio, tipsheets and reporting on FOIA battles and open government. Newspapers across the country kicked off the week with stories analyzing FOIA responses and violations. Here's a look at some of the coverage:

 

Few cited for open government violations | Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team

Public officials in Wisconsin can be fined hundreds of dollars for violating open government laws, but only seven citations have been imposed in the past five years for open meetings violations, and none for public records cases,court records show.

Prosecutors say this is because public ...

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Mass. newspaper reporter catches city employees burning public records

A reporter from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass. caught city employees burning reams of public records, all without approval from the state.

Old purchase orders, payroll records and utility bills, along with a handful of other documents, went up in smoke. The city’s public works commissioner “emphasized that all of the records burned in recent weeks were old and useless,” according to the paper.

The revelation has caused all kinds of problems for city officials, who said they “jumped the gun.”

It gets even worse:

"Not only were the DPW records disposed of without permission, the manner in ...

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Using new nonprofit law center, Hawaii’s Civil Beat wins access to police misconduct records

In the flood of paperwork that made its way each year to the Hawaii legislature, a shocking statistic slipped under the radar: About once a week the Honolulu Police Department was suspending or firing an officer for misconduct.

Often the offenses were serious – abusing suspects, lying to federal investigators, tipping off drug dealers. And for nearly two decades the information was kept quiet. Legislators paid little attention to the annual reports. Officers who resigned or got suspended for misconduct were shielded by a political loophole in the state’s public records law. Paperwork documenting the wrongdoing was often destroyed.

Civil ...

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NYPD denies FOIA request for department FOIA guide

The New York Police Department’s Freedom of Information Law Unit is refusing to release its FOIL guide. Yes, you read that right.

Public records request service MuckRock asked for the document in late December. Last week a lieutenant in the department’s records unit denied the request, calling the guide “privileged as an attorney-client communication.”

You can be sure MuckRock is appealing the decision.

NJ court fact-finder recommends Gannett get its due for winning public records fight over PDFs

If a judge agrees with a court fact-finder, Gannett New Jersey could be getting $542,000 in legal fees stemming from a public records lawsuit.

Gannett filed suit in 2009 after several newspapers asked for municipal payroll records in an electronic format, not PDFs. In August 2012 the company won the “precedent-setting case.”

As for the legal fees, “The borough might have come out ahead if it had cut its losses in 2012, when Gannett first sought reimbursement of $495,491. As the borough continued to file motions, the media company’s legal fees continued to mount. By April 2013 ...

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To speed up ‘FOIA slowpokes,’ journalists mix praise and shame

When I was a reporter at a daily newspaper in Virginia, few things frustrated me more than slow responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. I’d put in my request and wait the allotted response time only to receive a handful of excuses. Sometimes, after weeks of nagging, I’d get the documents. Other times my request was strangled to death by red tape.

FOIA statistics are grim. According to MuckRock, a public records request service, about 27 percent of requests go unfulfilled in the first three months.

But when agencies dig in their heels, reporters often have limited ...

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18 Chris Christie investigations coming to a publication near you

WNYC today compiled a clever list of “18 ways Christie and his officials have blocked access to information.”

The release of the subpoenaed documents “exposed the Christie Administration's involvement in Bridgegate show how the Governor's Office has been keeping its decisions and expenditures quiet despite laws that require official business to be made public.”

The state secrets include everything from visitors at the governor’s mansion to State Police overtime data to taxpayer-funded attorneys representing Christie in abuse-of-power investigations.

A handful of lawsuits have already been filed over the exemptions and redactions. We’re looking forward to the ...

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Court rules in favor of S.D. paper, allows access to food stamp data

A federal appeals court has ruled that Argus Leader Media can seek government data on how much businesses take in from the food stamp program, the Sioux Falls, S.D. paper reported.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Court Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court ruling and determined that a federal statute that created the food stamp program does not prohibit the USDA from disclosing the revenues businesses earn from it.

Last year Jonathan Ellis, of the Argus Leader, wrote about the paper’s lawsuit:

"By the start of 2011, we had assembled a national database that showed ...

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