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March 2021

Thank you for your support of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and our member state organizations. In recognition of Sunshine Week, please consider a one-time gift to support our important cause. You may donate here.

Sunshine Week, launched in 2005, is a nationwide effort to promote open government. Sunshine Week coincides with National Freedom of Information Day,
March 16, which is James Madison’s birthday.
Find Sunshine Week events. 
Spread the word about your event.
Help us amplify and share your Sunshine Week news. Get our attention by using this hashtag: #sunshineweek 

Accidental’ transparency advocate retires from leadership role, remains active in cause

Toby Nixon, a longtime senior program manager at Microsoft, never envisioned himself an advocate for government transparency and open records laws.

It wasn’t until Nixon was appointed to the Washington Legislature in 2002 that he gave any thought to how open records laws, when poorly written and poorly enforced, damage civic engagement and erode public trust.

Digging into Washington state’s cumbersome Public Records Act, and noticing exemptions swallowing the rules, lit a spark in Nixon, a Libertarian. He made it his focus to restructure, clarify and strengthen Washington’s law. He gained attention for his work, was elected to his once-appointed seat as state representative, and joined the board of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.  

Reluctantly, he acknowledges, he agreed to serve as vice president, thinking the role wouldn’t require too much work. But soon after, the president resigned, and Nixon ascended to the top spot — as an “accidental president,” in Nixon’s words. 

After 13 years in the role, Nixon retired in February, handing the presidency to Mike Fancher, former executive editor of The Seattle Times. Nixon will remain with the coalition as president emeritus.      

“My passion is about making sure everyone can make a public records request, not about me, personally,” Nixon said. “I want to see us preserve the sovereignty of the people. The people can’t be in charge if they don’t know what the government is doing.”

Nixon points to the coalition’s increased stature, and the state law’s improved structure, as meaningful progress. State courts, legislators and members of the public often seek the coalition’s advice on matters of transparency. And the state’s Public Records Act, now disentangled from the state’s campaign finance laws, makes more sense and is easier to use.   

Challenges to transparency remain. Nixon says records requesters too often face arbitrary and intentional delays. Governments, institutions and politicians too often invoke attorney-client privilege when it’s not warranted. Offices overseeing records requests too often are starved of resources and staff. 

And there’s the challenge of educating people of the importance of transparency laws. To that end, the Washington Coalition runs an annual high school essay contest, in honor of a former board member and attorney.   

“I would love to see more materials, appropriate for high school students, that civics teachers or even yearbook teachers could use to teach and promote the concepts of government transparency and accountability,” said Nixon, who remembers “falling in love” with the study of civics and government, thanks to a junior high school teacher in his hometown of Redding, Calif. 

Fancher, the new president of the Washington Coalition, said Nixon leads by example, uniting people to promote transparency.   

“He embodies the spirit that WCOG truly is a coalition whose members can, and often do, disagree with each other but stand together to fight for openness in government, believing it is the best way to ensure accountability and preserve public trust,” Fancher said.

Toby Nixon

Career: 28 years at Microsoft.
• Kirkland, Wash., City Council member
• Attain Housing, board vice president; 
• Nourishing Networks, board chair; 
• and other involvement.
Family: Married to wife, Irene, for 38 years. They have five grown children.
Quote: “I want to see us preserve the sovereignty of the people. The people can’t be in charge if they don’t know what the government is doing.”
Read more here.   
Coalition Research

New York school boards and village governments flunk transparency tests

Only 30% of school districts in New York State received a passing grade for how they conducted executive sessions. And half of the state's villages received an "F" grade for providing meeting minutes, agendas, documents and public comments. 

Those are the findings of surveys released this year by the New York Coalition for Open Government. Coalition members reviewed the websites of 20 districts for the schools report, released in February. Coalition members reviewed the sites of 20 villages in the state for the group's latest report, released Thursday during a press conference
The all-volunteer, nonpartisan coalition strives to release several report cards each year. Its next study, targeted for a May release, will focus on local planning boards. 

Read the reports here:
School Boards Across New York State Hold Improper Executive Sessions. 
Village Governments Across New York State Provide Limited Information to the Public.


States respond differently to releasing body-cam footage, but trend is toward more disclosure

Most states have passed legislation to address the public release of footage captured by police body-worn cameras. And, generally, states are trending toward increased public disclosure of footage.

Do existing FOIA laws and their exemptions address body-camera footage? That answer varies by state. But an increasing number of states have required automatic public disclosure of footage under certain circumstances.

Those are some of the findings of a study commissioned by the DC Open Government Coalition to assess and compare state laws and proposals governing police body-worn cameras.

Read the report here: 
• Executive Summary: State and Local Policies Regarding Public Access to Police Body-Worn Camera Videos.
• Body Camera Research Table. 
• Access to Police Complaint Records. 
Signed, NFOIC

The NFOIC joined other organizations in urging the Biden Administration to promote transparency and openness: 

• Letter to Biden White House on Open Government. 
• Request for Swift Presidential Leadership to Make Transparency a Top Priority for the Biden Administration. 

Also of note, the Indiana Supreme Court deadlocked on a case about revealing the identities of the state's execution drugs, which a requester sought under the state's Access to Public Records Act. The split in the state's top court means a lower court's ruling to release the information remains intact.

Last year, the NFOIC signed on to an amicus brief, drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. The brief argued that a "Secrecy Statute," meant to conceal the identities of the execution drugs, was unconstitutional. Read more about the case here: Indiana high court splits over revealing execution drugs.   
From the Headlines
• Georgia coalition joins parent's fight to access school's COVID-19 data
• Kentucky bill raises alarms for letting the 'fox guard the henhouse'
• Virginia bill opens inactive criminal investigative files to public
For more headlines, check out the NFOIC's Recent News blog
and follow NFOIC on Twitter
From the Archives
From our 2020 FOI Summit,
a discussion about using public funds to incentivize businesses. 
NFOC Newsletter Contacts
This newsletter is produced by Todd Fettig, NFOIC outreach coordinator, and Erika Benton, NFOIC external partnership coordinator and communications specialist. To contribute items or for more information, email and To read regular FOI updates, visit our blog at and follow us on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

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