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Nov. 12, 2021

NFOIC, Knight FOI Fund support efforts to release COVID data, county credit card info

The National Freedom of Information Coalition in October 2021 awarded two grants from the Knight FOI Fund in support of litigation to release public records. 

In Florida

The Florida Center for Government Accountability, the NFOIC’s newest member, was awarded a $5,000 grant to support its lawsuit against the Florida Department of Health, which has stopped posting COVID-19 data to its website and has denied the FLCGA’s request for data. 

The FLCGA and a state representative filed suit after the Department of Health cited an exemption to Florida’s Sunshine Law and argued that because it is releasing data to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is not obligated to comply with public record requests. 

The suit has garnered state, national and international media attention.

In Colorado

The Delta County Citizen Report, a nonprofit news organization, was awarded a $4,600 grant to support its lawsuit against the county commissioners and county administrator. 

The Delta County Citizen Report alleges it was denied records relating to the county administrator’s county-issued credit card statements. The county initially denied the existence of the county-issued credit card, but testimony during an ethics commission hearing suggested the credit card does indeed exist, according to the Citizen Report. 

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, an NFOIC member, wrote in support of the Delta County Citizen Report’s efforts.

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NFOIC News

New York coalitions see signs of progress
in new transparency laws signed by governor

Government transparency took a few legislative steps forward this fall in New York, where the National of Freedom of Information Coalition has two member organizations.

Bills supported by NFOIC members Reinvent Albany and the New York Coalition for Open Government were signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Reinvent Albany advocated for a bill that will require the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to publish data in open data formats, making it easier to access.

The New York Coalition for Open Government supported bills that would require public bodies to post meeting materials before meetings, and minutes of the meetings afterward. 

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Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition publishes online and searchable guide to state’s sunshine laws 

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition has published its new guide to the state’s sunshine laws. For the first time, the guide is online, searchable and indexed by topic. 

“The guide is comprehensive, addressing the questions most frequently asked of CFOIC about the Colorado Open Records Act, the Colorado Criminal Justice Records Act, the Colorado Open Meetings Law and access to judicial branch records,” according to a post on the CFOIC’s website. The guide also includes information on the reporter’s shield law, cameras in the courtroom, juvenile records and proceedings, and resources regarding the federal Freedom of Information Act. 

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California’s First Amendment Coalition hiring
senior staff attorney, legal fellow 

The First Amendment Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization headquartered in Northern California, is hiring for two legal positions to focus on government transparency and press freedom litigation and counseling.

FAC is looking for an experienced lawyer to serve as senior staff attorney, directing FAC’s strategic litigation program. FAC also is recruiting its next legal fellow, a position open to recent law school graduates.

Candidates must be members of the California bar.

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Online 2021 FOI Summit promotes greater inclusion, sets record with more than 300 attendees 

The 2021 FOI Summit, hosted by the National Freedom of Information Coalition, set an FOI Summit attendance record, bringing together 304 total attendees, including 72 speakers. 

The 2021 Summit saw a 95% increase in attendance over the 2020 Summit, which drew 156 total attendees. The NFOIC switched to an all-online Summit in 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This year, NFOIC staff and board saw the potential to expand its network. The online format allowed the organization to make the three-day summit more accessible and inclusive. 

“We’re committed to opening doors into the FOI community, knowing that new perspectives in the open-government sphere will promote healthy civic engagement and a stronger democracy,” said Todd Fettig, NFOIC executive director. “We were so pleased to see the positive response to our lineup of diverse topics and speakers.”

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NFOIC seeks administrative support, invites applications from member coalitions

The National Freedom of Information Coalition Board of Directors voted Sept. 28, 2021, to invite applications from member coalitions interested in entering a contract to provide NFOIC administrative support services.

Under a three-year contract, the NFOIC would provide $10,000 annually to the supporting coalition, starting July 1, 2022, in exchange for administrative duties that would include maintaining the NFOIC website, organizing an annual summit, collecting member dues and donations, and administering the Knight FOI Litigation Fund, according to the Request for Proposals posted Oct. 11, 2021.

The NFOIC Board will remain responsible for the NFOIC and the direction of its staff.

The deadline for applications is Nov. 15, 2021, emailed as a PDF to NFOIC Board President David Cuillier at cuillier@arizona.edu.

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Transitions

‘Create a culture that says public access is good,
and we don’t want exceptions,’ retiring leader says

Be proactive. Think in terms of principles. Think long-term. Build a culture of transparency. And remind lawmakers of their commitments to open government. 

Those are the tenets of Robert Travis Scott, who in November 2021 retires as president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR), a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition. 

PAR focuses on a range of public issues and policies in Louisiana, from education to health care to taxes, and it positions itself as a catalyst for governmental reform. A central thread that runs throughout its research and recommendations: open government is good government.

“We’re coming from a place where it’s a very high bar to limit public access,” Scott said. “That’s more important than any particular set of laws or procedures." 

“In the long run, that’s what you want: To create a culture that says public access is good, and we don’t want exceptions. We understand the public good of public access, and the bar must be very high.” 

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Executive director of New Mexico coalition to retire; search for new leader has begun

The Board of Directors of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government on Oct. 28, 2021, announced the retirement of Executive Director Melanie Majors effective Dec. 31, 2021.

Majors took the role of director in 2018, after serving as a member of NMFOG’s Board of Directors. She has more than 35 years of communications experience, including stints in newspapers, magazines, television and public relations.

“Melanie has provided years of outstanding service to FOG, first as a board member and as our executive director,” said Susan Boe, president. “On behalf of the entire board of directors, I want to publicly thank Melanie for her dedication to our organization and to open government. We wish Melanie well.”

A search is underway for a new executive director. The deadline for submissions is Nov. 17, 2021.

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From the Headlines

Wanting to keep Google’s water use a secret,
Oregon city sues news organization

A city in Oregon is suing a news organization, hoping to keep secret how much water Google will use to cool server farms.

The city of The Dalles filed suit in state court in October 2021, seeking to overturn the ruling of a county district attorney, who said Google’s water use is a public record.

The Wasco County district attorney ordered The Dalles to provide the water records to The Oregonian/OregonLive. In its lawsuit, The Dalles is asking a judge to intervene, arguing the water use is a Google “trade secret” and exempt from disclosure under Oregon law.

“Google’s attempt to cloak its use of a vital community resource — water — is irreconcilable with the requirements of Oregon public records law,” said Ellen Osoinach, staff attorney for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which is representing The Oregonian/OregonLive in the case. “Oregonians have a right to this important information.”

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Training Calendar

3 Requests 3 Stories: Rhode Island

Sponsored by the New England First Amendment Coalition
When: 6 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday, Nov. 17
Click to Register
We're happy to promote your training programs and events. Please click the button below to let us know of programming scheduled this fall. 
Share Your Training Programs

A 2021 survey of state coalitions for open government showed that the
greatest threats to government transparency today are legal exemptions primarily focused on protecting individual privacy. Learn how NFOIC members protect the public's right to know. Click the image above to download a PDF
of "States of Denial." 

Click to Donate to NFOIC
NFOIC Newsletter Contacts
This newsletter is produced by Todd Fettig, NFOIC executive director, and Erika Benton, NFOIC external partnership coordinator and communications specialist. To contribute items or for more information, email nfoic@nfoic.orgtfettig@nfoic.org and ebenton@nfoic.org. To read regular FOI updates, visit our blog at nfoic.org and follow us on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

Copyright © 2021 National Freedom of Information Coalition, All rights reserved.


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