Sunlight Weekly Roundup: Rhode Island gets public records revamp

  • In Rhode Island, a public records law might get a much-needed revamp if a bill heard by the House Judiciary Committee this week becomes law. The proposal was introduced by Representative Michael Marcello and would be the first amendment to the state’s Public Records Act in 15 years. According to RI Future, the legislation would, “decrease the amount of time a public agency has to make public records available from ten to 7 days; require municipalities and government agencies to designate and train a public records officer; require police departments to make initial arrest reports available within 24 hours; and would make correspondences between elected officials regarding policy public documents.” Citizens in Rhode Island have had a difficult time of accessing public information in the past. Civil liberties and open government activists applauded the effort, hoping it would improve the state’s access to public records. “This may impose some additional burdens on government employees but it should be accepted as an important part of their work,” said Steve Brown, the executive director of the RI ACLU. For more information, see Bob Plain’s post.
  • Members of the meet up group Open Government Chicago demoed some of the newest web-based applications created by local programmers. These apps utilize public data and could be helpful to Austin citizens. Some of the most interesting aps included Chicago Potholes, an app that “displays the open pothole requests on a city map” and, a  federated data site that makes it easy to “obtain datasets on one website instead of going to each level of government for the various sets of information.” For more of these exciting open government apps, see Ellyn Fortino’s post on Austin Talks.
  • In a March 27, 2012 letter, Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph L. Bocchini, Jr. criticized the Trenton City Council  for failing to  make “available to the public written minutes of [Council] meetings for a substantial period of time.” He maintained that meeting minutes should be made “promptly available’” to the public and  pointed out that a 1986 court decision defined “promptly available” as meaning within two weeks after the meeting. He asked that the council provide him  “with a timetable when minutes from past meetings will be complete and available to the public.” John Paff of NJ Open Government Notes maintains, “ It’s not often that a county prosecutor enforces the Open Public Meetings Act.  Bocchini’s letter is refreshing and may help convince other prosecutors around New Jersey to take action on complaints about tardy disclosure of meeting minutes. “ For more on his take, see his post.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s aides are “clearly unhappy” with a poll that included what they say is a leading question on transparency. The question read, “Governor Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of the Senate Republican and Assembly Democratic majorities are being criticized for secrecy in negotiating major policy deals, then quickly voting at night on the measures. Do you think these closed-door negotiations were necessary to achieve major policy deals or not?” Subsequently, the governor had to  answer questions clarifying  his own definition of transparency,  which is mostly focused on traveling the state to explain his budget and agenda directly to voters. For the whole story see Nick Reisman’s post on Capital Tonight.

What’s your take on these local open government posts? Are there any open government happenings in your neck of the woods? Let us know in the comments!

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