Today in OpenGov: California clawbacks


In today's edition, helping the homeless with open data, asking questions about Ajit Pai's oversized coffee mug, telling President Trump he can't block his Twitter critics, and more. 

states and cities

The Austin Resources Center for the Homeless, in downtown Austin. Photo by Alex Dodds.
  • Using open data to help Austin, Texas better serve its homeless population. "More than 2,100 people are estimated to be homeless in Austin, Texas this year—5 percent more than in 2017. The City of Austin has been working to deeply understand the experiences of people in homelessness, and build trusting relationships with a population that’s wary of government. Now, Sunlight’s Open Cities team and the City are working together to see if open data could be part of the solution. In 2017, the City of Austin’s Innovation Office’s Innovation Team and the Communications and Technology Management Department’s Open Data team launched a project to help the city provide better homelessness services using data and technology." (Sunlight Foundation)
  • In California, it's too easy for public agencies to claw back public records if they start to regret their release. "'NO TAKE-BACKS' is a common rule on the elementary school playground. It is not the rule when it comes to public records in the state of California, where public agencies can and do try to claw back documents after they’ve released them, and where one school district recently asked a court to award it $450,000 from a citizen who had obtained records the district later withdrew." (Columbia Journalism Review)
  • South Carolina Supreme Court rules that a local Chamber of Commerce doesn't have to comply with records law, despite accepting public funding. "The spending activities of a South Carolina tourism marketer that receives tax dollars are not subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The decision reversed a lower court's decision that found the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce was a public body that falls under the open records law." (The Post and Courier)
  • What Works Cities will benefit from an additional $42 million to help improve city data and evidence use. "Mike Bloomberg today announced an additional $42 million investment in the What Works Cities program to enhance cities’ use of data and evidence to improve resident outcomes and address the most pressing local issues. The investment, part of Bloomberg’s American Cities Initiative, is one response to what the former New York City mayor says is a mounting disdain for facts, which is making it difficult to tackle some of the country’s toughest challenges." (Bloomberg Cities) Sunlight is proud to help cities across the country share information in transparent and collaborative ways as part of What Works Cities

washington watch

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his oversized coffee mug. 
  • Why is the FCC so hesitant to release documents about Ajit Pai's giant Reese's mug? "After several stories about the Federal Communications Commission abusing FOIA exemptions to avoid releasing embarrassing emails, the agency appears to have switched tactics, demanding a requester provide personal information not required under the law and charging hundreds in search fees…This month, MuckRock user Taylor Amarel" requested emails related to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's infamous oversized Reese's mug. The FCC's response? Give us your phone number and home address so we can figure out how much to charge you. (MuckRock)
  • For the second day in a row, the EPA restricted media access to a summit on toxic chemicals. "EPA staff Wednesday morning barred POLITICO and reporters from at least two other publications from entering a national summit on toxic chemicals, a day after a partial media blackout at the same event brought criticism from congressional Democrats and a pledge by the White House to investigate the incident." (POLITICO) Our take? The public has a right to know what happened at the summit, which was dealing with an important public health issue. 
  • A major GOP donor is threatening to pull his financial support over DACA. "An influential, multi-millionaire GOP donor is threatening to choke off campaign resources to Republican congressmen who haven’t engaged in the latest immigration battle in Congress. Former Exelon chairman John Rowe, a prominent Chicago business leader who’s donated to dozens of GOP House and Senate members, first told POLITICO in an interview he is tightening the spigot — and in some cases, completely turning off the flow — of money to Republican lawmakers who refuse to sign onto a discharge petition that would force a vote on legislation related to so-called 'Dreamers.'" (POLITICO)
  • Moderate Democrats are increasingly rejecting donations from corporate PACs. "They’ve expressed skepticism about Medicare for All and free college, cut back on talk of DACA and DREAMers, and tiptoed around social issues like transgender rights. But when it comes to campaign finance — and the move to reject corporate PAC money — many leading Democrats in red and purple districts are in step with national figures like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand." (BuzzFeed)



  • Judge rules that President Trump can't block Twitter critics. John Herrman and Charlie Savage report that, "on Wednesday, one of Mr. Trump’s Twitter habits — his practice of blocking critics on the service, preventing them from engaging with his account — was declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Manhattan. Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, addressing a novel issue about how the Constitution applies to social media platforms and public officials, found that the president’s Twitter feed is a public forum. As a result, she ruled that when Mr. Trump or an aide blocked seven plaintiffs from viewing and replying to his posts, he violated the First Amendment. (New York TimesOur take? Every American has a right to read statements by the president—including those on Twitter—and disagree with those statements if they see fit.
  • Ukraine reportedly paid Michael Cohen at least $400,000 to arrange talks between President Trump and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. "Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 (£300,000) to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved. The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine's leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law." (BBC)
  • Jared Kushner awarded full security clearance, ending a year of questions. "Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has been granted his permanent security clearance, a person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday, ending a period of uncertainty that had fueled questions about whether Mr. Kushner was in peril in the special counsel investigation." (New York Times)


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