Sunlight Weekly Round-up: FOI in Connecticut could lose credibility in new merger

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In his book, The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records, Charles N. Davis analyzes a study by Michael G. Powell on understanding the culture of government records. Powell’s quest to find out if FOIA may obscure more than it clarifies on how to access public records, revealed that the process may produce paranoia. This paranoia is manifested in a bureaucracy from government agencies that feel like the public is out to get them and as for the public, the feeling that the government is up to no good. This study may not have found that FOIA reduces corruption, but it implies that some public officials may get better at hiding public information, posing an even tougher challenge for citizens who do not know how to ferret this information out. But this should not be the case. Davis sums it up by encouraging us to understand the dynamic between people and their government. By so doing, we learn that records custodians are individuals who are part of a systematic tension which we should get skilled at  navigating.

  • Freedom of information in Connecticut is in trouble — at least, according to Mitchell W. Pearlman, the retired 30-year Freedom of Information (FOI) Director for the state. In a new proposed bill that Pearlman had a chance to see, but has not yet been disclosed to the public, FOI will be merged into a super agency with other transparency-focused agencies (including the Office of State Ethics and State Elections Enforcement Commission) to become the Office of  Government Accountability. One of the super agency’s proposed duties would be to create efficiencies by merging similar agencies while seemingly saving the tax payer money. To show how this new proposal will not be saving taxpayers money, but in fact increasing costs, Pearlman breaks it down with the possible outcomes. Jon Lender is putting it all in perspective on Capitol Watch.
  • Wes Hare, City manager of Albany, Oregon is seeking “transparency at any cost.” While taking pride in awards for Albany’s open government movement, Hare questions the State Attorney General, John Kroger’s recent proposal to improve transparency by limiting government charges for retrieving public records because he thinks it’s a “cost burden on taxpayers.” His recommendation? Government should be allowed to maintain some control over public records. See how he makes a case for it on We Share.
  • A performance based budget bill that will require agencies to set benchmarks and goals and be held accountable for their spending priorities, has been passed in Nevada. The Assembly Bill 248 is part of the state government reform plan to be more transparent, efficient and accountable. While it will give the state’s governor the power to authorize executive agencies to conduct public hearings on the proposed budget, it will also require the posting of performance on the Department of Administration website. Geoffrey Lawrence reveals how this bill is a result of the Nevada Policy Research Institute study, “Better Budgeting for Better Results”. He applauds the Nevada legislature on Write on Nevada.
  • A new joint committee on transparency and open government will soon be operational in Maryland. Created through HB766 with Delegate Heather Mizeur as the lead sponsor, the Committee will make recommendations on state transparency goals and policies. Nick Judd talked to Delegate Mizeur who believes the committee can also be used as “a way to make more transparent opportunities for contracting in the state.” Judd asserts that it still remains to be seen where the money to fund this committee will come from, as he details other improvements made by Gov. O’Malley, including his hiring of a state Chief Innovation Officer. He asks whether Maryland is becoming The Open Government State on techPresident.
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