Sunlight Weekly Round-up: Maine grapples with transparency


The recent outpouring of revulsion over Maine’s state of transparency including criticism from governor LePage’s own and our call for open government, have led to some positive change. But with every step forward, the state seems to take two backwards and any attempt at opening up its government has been received with counter productive actions, most of which created by its governor. Now, there is a possibility that a new proposed legislation, coupled with citizen demand for accountability will turn a fresh page for LaPage’s state.

  • A new bill to improve Maine transparency has been introduced. Sponsored by Senator John Patrick, the LD1260 will subject the governor elect’s transition team to Freedom of Access laws. It will also impose a one year waiting ban on lobbying activities for former public officials and add economic provisions that indicate a possible conflict of interest for a lobbyist. Gerald Weinand analyzes the issue of transition teams which are not considered part of any government body and are therefore not subject to FOAA requests. See who is classified as a former lobbyist and a former legislator on Dirigo Blue.
  • Maine Governor Paul LePage, who likened  the Freedom of Access Law to internal terrorism, has replaced the citizen Board of Environmental Protection with administrative law judges in order to limit citizens access to state decision-makers. For Sharon Treat, a state legislator, this decision could not have come at a worse time. Treat writes that part of this new provision revives “concept drafts” which are given to the state legislature to summarize a new bill without providing an opportunity for the public to contribute their input. See how Treat is trying to change this trend on From the North.
  • Chicago’s Inspector General, Joe Ferguson, has introduced a new initiative to make the city more transparent. “Open Chicago” will be hosted on the recently redesigned Office of Inspector General’s website and will provide a better understanding of city government for the public while increasing effectiveness in the city’s operations. As a way of showing initial compliance to the IGO’s office, Open Chicago has already posted its collective bargaining agreements and Andy Shaw shares that it will periodically update its website with new datasets. Read more on the Shaw Blog
  • One year after the fatal West Virginia mine accident that killed 29 miners, Jon Hale examines the lessons learned. Explaining an investigation of public records that revealed that authorities were late in responding to calls for help, Hale writes that a detailed report showing regulatory oversight and failed government inspections will soon be available for the public. On the bright side, the unfortunate incident lead to an increase in unannounced impact inspections with 39 already conducted in Kentucky and 32 in West Virginia. Read more about mine safety and open government on the Rural Blog. (For more on the relationship between the West Virginia mining accident and open data check out a video we produced last year shortly after the blast.)
  • An additional open government section has been added to the New York Open Meetings Law . The Public Officers Law means that any meeting of a public body will be open to being recorded or photographed by New Yorkers but Justin Mosebach feels that for better transparency, the public officials should take the initiative and record the meetings themselves and make them public, making it more difficult for people to use public information out of context. See how he explains it on Video Minutes.