Tags : government

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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Behind the Story: The Boston Globe’s 4-year battle for secret settlement records

Todd Wallack

Boston Globe reporter Todd Wallack thought it would be a simple, short-term project to look into settlements made between the state of Massachusetts and some of its employees. After all, he’d done the same thing in California, uncovering an agreement between UC Davis and one of its administrators to avert a nasty lawsuit.

But the response he got from Massachusetts was completely unexpected.

“This is the first time I came across a state saying, ‘no, this is confidential,” Wallack said.

The records he initially received were heavily redacted. Officials had blacked out reams of crucial information, including names, dates ...

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Investigating tax credits, subsidies and incentives

By Zachary Matson

Each year local and state governments provide private companies with billions of dollars of tax credits, subsidies and other forms of incentives to mover or open new facilities in their communities. These deals are shrouded behind layers of quasi-public agencies, weak disclosure rules and secretive businesses, but rarely the economic benefits turn out as originally billed.

IRE board president and columnist David Cay Johnston and Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First provided insights into exploring these deals and their true costs to the public on a panel at the recent IRE Conference in San Antonio.

Johnston said ...

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Investigating political shenanigans

By Kolten Parker

Manny Garcia, of El Nuevo Herald, speaks during a panel entitled Investigating political shenanigans. Photo: Travis Hartman

Journalists eager to scoop political scandals should get out of the office and state house and into the bar.

A panel of three reporters with experience exposing political shenanigans shared advice and downplayed the notion that investigative stories always begin with an isolated journalist buried in chest-high stacks of financial reports.

Jay Root, a reporter for the Texas Tribune who followed Texas Governor Rick Perry on his failed presidential run last year, shared advice he was given as a young ...

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Making sense of the government surveillance news

News of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of phone records and internet server data is breaking fast. Yesterday The Washington Post and The Guardian released records that show the U.S. Government has been collecting a vast cache of data spanning audio and video chats, emails, and stored files under a surveillance program known as PRISM. The news comes just days after The Guardian released a copy it obtained of a secret court order for telecommunication company Verizon to provide the NSA with telephone records of millions of U.S. customers.

The revelations have dominated the news ...

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Behind the Story: Simple math reveals errors in lucrative speed camera system

This car received a ticket from a Baltimore area camera while stopped at a red light. This case was one of the errors uncovered in the Baltimore Sun's series on red light cameras.

The Baltimore Sun’s investigation of red light cameras over the past year prompted changes to the system a city task force to study the cameras, a lawsuit and draft legislation. Though officials have refused to credit the paper’s reporting for the policy changes, the Sun’s findings exposed wrongful tickets -- including idling vehicles cited for moving violations -- that the city is now working to ...

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Public records in Arlington County, Va., come at high price

The Arlington Gazette Packet reports that public records in Arlington come at a high price compared to neighboring areas in northern Virginia. Throughout Virginia, access to open records remains spotty. The State Integrity project, which ranks states based on their level of transparency, placed Virginia 47 and gave it a failing grade. Now, Michael Lee Pope reports, open government advocates are claiming Arlington's costly request system serve as an added barrier to public access.

"Want a booking photo in a high profile case? Get ready to hand over $24," Pope writes. "Want to see a copy of a report ...

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Outrageous cost estimates for open records requests

This past week, journalists on the NICAR Listserv began discussing the most outrageous price quotes they’d received for open records requests.

Canadian journalist David Weisz started the thread as research for a presentation he was giving to the Information Resource Management Association of Canada on the state of data journalism.

"Having filed ATI requests myself and hearing the horror stories of other journalists, I was curious to hear just how outrageous they got," Weisz wrote via email.

The responses poured in, and the journalists on the listerv agreed to let us share them on the blog. Here's a ...

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Behind The Story: Analyzing and mapping salary data for small-town mayors

In August, reporter Kate Martin of the Skagit Valley Herald analyzed salary data for mayors across Washington state and ended up with a story about mayors from small towns in her coverage area -- Mount Vernon and Anacortes -- who had salaries on par with mayors from cities several times larger. In reporting the story, Martin first had to gather the data and then reconcile it with the realities of small-town civic duties.

The idea for the story arose through her typical reporting practices: each year, she requests salary data for all of the agencies that the Skagit Valley Herald covers.

“I ...

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State of New Jersey sues itself over release of records

Mark Lagerkvist of New Jersey Watchdog reports that the State of New Jersey is suing itself over a possible release of records to the website.

Lagerkvist reports that on Oct. 15, the state attorney general filed a motion seeking to stop the state Government Records Council from reviewing files, which on Aug. 31 had ordered state pension officials to turn over 26 records for inspection, to determine if any of those records should be released to New Jersey Watchdog.

The records relate to an alleged $245,000 pension scheme involving Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, which New Jersey watchdog first reported ...

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