Archive for the ‘sunshine / freedom of information’ Category

Sunshine Week 2013 Set for Mid-March

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Sunshine Week – Your Right to KnowSunshine Week, a journalist-created annual event to raise awareness about open government, will be held March 10–16, 2013. The initiative is being coordinated by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the American Society of News Editors.

A schedule of events, many of which will be in Washington, D.C., has been put up at the event’s website.

Sunshine Week is sponsored annually by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Corporate mass-media firm Bloomberg LP has kicked in a grant for 2013.

What is now Sunshine Week was started as Sunshine Sunday in 2002 by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. The group launched the event in response to efforts afoot in the Florida legislature to add several exemptions to the state’s public-records law. FSNE credits its initiative with leading to the defeat of around 300 exemptions proposed in the Sunshine State legislature.

Blog Law Blog can’t help but wonder if the Florida-born Sunshine Week is meant to correspond with Spring Break in Daytona Beach. The timing sure is peculiar. And, when you think about it, open-records laws and in-mouth margarita mixing can both lead to exposures of a type. Yikes. Well, here’s to hoping for more being revealed by governments than drunk college students this spring.

Local Blog vs. Small Town in Washington State

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Here’s another local-political-blog-vs-small-town story: Emily Heffter in the Seattle Times: Activist’s blog hammers away at Gold Bar, costs tiny town money

The blog, the Gold Bar Reporter, has become a disruptive force in the Gold Bar, Washington, population 2,000. But good disruptive or bad disruptive?

There’s no doubt that it’s costing the town money. In 2010, the town spent $70,000 responding to public-records requests, nearly all of them from Gold Bar bloggers Anne Block and Susan Forbes. That’s out of a total annual budget of $573,898. The town says that they’ve had to re-assign staff to deal with the onslaught of records requests.

On the other hand, the blog has uncovered some things that seem worth uncovering. During the re-election campaign of County Executive Aaron Reardon, the blog accused Reardon of using taxpayer money for a trip with a mistress. A month afterward, a county employee came forward to admit that she traveled with Reardon in pursuit of an affair on county trips. And now the Washington State Patrol is doing an investigation to see if county funds were misused.

New DOJ Guidance on FOIA After the Milner Case

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

As I’ve said before, one of the best legal tools available to bloggers, especially those with an investigative bent, is FOIA – the federal Freedom of Information Act – along with its state-law counterparts.

There’s been some shifting of the FOIA landscape lately with a new U.S. Supreme Court case, Milner v. Dep’t of the Navy, 131 S. Ct. 1259 (2011) [pdf], which has significantly narrowed the scope of an important exemption – ”Exemption No. 2″ – which allows the government to withhold from disclosure material “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.” (See 5 U. S. C. § 552(b)(2)).

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press has a story discussing new guidance to federal agencies that has just been issued by the U.S. Department of Justice following Milner.

Let the Sun Shine In

Friday, October 15th, 2010

One of the best legal tools available to bloggers and traditional journalists alike is the Freedom of Information Act.

FOIA, as it’s called, allows anybody to obtain copies of government records upon request. There are exceptions, of course. You can’t get national-security-sensitive classified materials this way, and you can’t get information such as tax returns or medical records that would violate an individual’s right to privacy. But you can get a lot. Once you realize the scope of what the government is required to turn over, it’s truly flabbergasting. We’re lucky to live in such an open society.

The best resource that I know of to help you navigate FOIA is the Federal Open Government Guide from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. RCFP also offers this super handy FOIA letter generator, although I personally would favor a slightly friendlier tone than what comes out of RCFP’s boilerplate. (The civil servant who will read your letter is compelled by law to respond, so you might as well be nice about it.)

You should also know that state governments generally have similar laws, sometimes called “sunshine” or “open records” laws. RCFP has a State Open Government Guide that can let you in on those laws as well.

Blogs and Open Meeting Laws

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Massachusetts lawyer Robert J. Ambrogi at Media Law blog asks: “Does A Public Official’s Blog Violate the Open Meeting Law?

His answer: Maybe