Sunlight Weekly Roundup: “What’s happening in the government should be public…”

  • According to open government advocates, Maryland does not do a good enough job of making government information easy for citizens to find online on the state’s website. Despite Governor Martin O’Malley’s stated commitment to increasing Maryland’s digital transparency, these open government advocates claim O’Malley’s administration has lagged behind in making “raw data held by state agencies available to citizens who want to evaluate the performance of state government — and O’Malley’s administration — on their own.” David Moore, executive director of the open government advocacy group the Participatory Politics Foundation, maintains, “What’s happening in the government should be public. Transparency in the process increases trust among the wider percentage of citizens and when civic trust is built up, then there’s more engagement.” For the whole story, check out Brooke Auxier’s post on Maryland Reporter.
  • Thanks to South Carolina Representative Bill Taylor, the state’s Freedom of Information Act will soon be facing a revamp. Taylor’s bill passed through a House subcommittee allowing state and local entities to only charge copy fees for an FOIA request and disallows search fees for those requests. It also creates a time limit for a public body to provide information. Furthermore, public bodies may no longer charge fees for staffers’ time spent gathering and reproducing records. In the past, the Nerve  has alleged that loopholes in the  FOI law  have allowed state agencies to “charge fees in the hundreds of dollars to fulfill a single request. Other loopholes allow a public body to simply acknowledge that it has received an FOIA request within the state’s 15-working-day time limit butnot actually fufill the request until months later.” “Right now, I wonder if ‘FOI’ shouldn’t stand for ‘frustration of getting information’ act. We need a time barrier in here,” maintains Taylor. For the whole story, read Amit Kuma’s post on the Nerve Blog. 

  • According to Ohio blogger Al Cross, public notices (or “legal ads”) not only help journalists report stories, but they also serve as a pillar of government transparency. Cross maintains, “Public notices are a necessary leg of the three-legged stool of open government, along with open-records and open-meetings laws.”  These public notices can include information about  government budgets, financial statements, audits, local ordinances, hearings, environmental permit applications, water-system reports, foreclosure sales and more. Cross worries  that public notices are under threat because  “local governments are lobbying state legislatures to eliminate or reduce newspaper publication of legal notices, arguing that it would be much cheaper for taxpayers if they’re published on government websites, and just as effective.” Polls by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri have found that citizens are unlikely to surf government websites for public notices. For his entire take, read Cross’ post on the Ohio Newspaper Association Blog. 
  • This week, Hartford Superintendent of Schools Christina Kishimoto decided to bar the  media from  school board meeting about pending school leadership changes. According to Connecticut’s Freedom of Information law, these meetings are supposed to be open to the public. In his post for CT Confidential, Rick Green argues, “ The point is not whether Kishimoto’s lawyers can find legal justification for blocking reporters from a discussion about taxpayer financed schools. The point is that school government and school decision-making should be done in the open and not in secret. Public employees like Kishimoto should want as much open government as possible if they want parents, city residents and the state taxpayers to support the high-cost experiment going on in the city.”
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