Today in OpenGov: It’s a no from me.


In today's edition, MuckRock celebrates 9 years of fighting for public records, Sen. Rand Paul takes a stand on surveillance, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces an ethics inquiry, a BBC cameraman is attacked at a Trump rally, and more. 

states and cities

The MuckRock team.The MuckRock team will be celebrating their 9th birthday on Sunday in Cambridge, MA. 
  • MuckRock celebrates 9 years of working to empower FOI requesters. "In early 2010, as we were working through the ideas that would eventually become MuckRock, one thing struck me again and again: Too many people had given up on public records. Part of it was the challenge of deciphering the legalistic language that surrounded the laws; part was the fact that many agencies still required requests be mailed or faxed…But perhaps the biggest part of it was what felt like a requester community in hiding…So when we designed MuckRock, we wanted to not only make it easier for current requesters to be more efficient and effective, but to empower more people to take advantage of these amazing laws, whether or not they were filing through our site." (MuckRock)
  • Philadelphia's internal "innovation consultancy" is showing results. "Eliza Pollack provides a unique service within Philadelphia’s municipal government. As the city’s assistant director of innovation strategy, Pollack runs its Innovation Consulting program, essentially facilitating workshops that apply innovation culture to the challenges Philadelphia’s internal departments face. These range from assisting with foster care placement to boosting diversity…so far, the program has proved to be a popular one. Since the first workshop took place back in late 2015, Pollack has conducted a total of 75 workshops that have involved 40 clients." (Government Technology)
  • North Dakota might restrict public access to certain records in the wake of pipeline protest reporting. "North Dakota lawmakers are considering a bill to restrict the release of records related to security operations involving “critical infrastructure” — a category that includes fossil fuel pipelines. The bill comes after The Intercept and other media outlets published stories documenting law enforcement surveillance and coordination with private security during the Dakota Access pipeline protests, many of which were based on records released under the North Dakota Open Records Act." (The Intercept)
  • D.C. Public Charter School Board responds to public transparency concerns, but has more work to do. "The Public Charter School Board (PCSB), the policy board that governs all 120+ D.C. charter schools (through 60-some local edcation agencies, each of which also has its own board), issued “version 2” of new rules Friday (8) for information that must be posted on each school’s website. A previous draft issued in December 2018 drew critical comments from teachers and the general public testifying in a public hearing January 28.  That plan did not expand the limited available information, only shifted it from a central website to schools’ own websites…the latest proposal does not require records to be available on request as public agencies generally must provide under D.C. FOIA. Nor does it require open meetings…Thus advocates will likely press for further development of charter school transparency policy." (D.C. Open Government Coalition)

washington watch

Graphic of two arms dropping ballots into a box. Image via Pixabay.
  • Iowa Democrats might embrace a "virtual caucus" in 2020. "The Iowa Democratic Party proposed on Monday making their caucus virtual for the 2020 election. Party Chair Troy Price outlined the changes that will attempt to make caucuses more accessible, for example for evening workers and the elderly…The proposal, called the 2020 Iowa Delegate Selection Plan, also includes changes to the recount system and information released about results." (The Hill)
  • Sen. Rand Paul to vote against President Trump's nominee for attorney general, citing surveillance and privacy concerns. "Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that he will vote against confirming President Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, citing his record on privacy issues…Paul previously criticized Barr's record on surveillance issues, including his support of the Patriot Act…Despite Paul's opposition, Barr is expected to be confirmed with near unanimous support from Republicans." (POLITICO)
  • Open government data faces a range of risks, despite recent legislative gains. "What’s next for open data in the United States? That was the open question posed at the Center for Data Innovation (CDI) last week, where a panel of industry analysts and experts gathered to discuss the historic open government data act that President Trump signed into law in January 2019…While the enactment of the Open Government Data Act is a critical step that not only codified President Barack Obama’s 2013 executive order but harmonized with the Freedom of Information Act, it should be harder to look at the United States of America in 2019 and declare that all is well when it comes to open government data today." (E Pluribus Unum)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar joins the ranks of 2020 presidential hopefuls refusing corporate PAC money. "Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) is rebuffing campaign contributions from corporate political action committees a day after declaring her bid for the White House. Carlie Waibel, a spokesperson for Klobuchar’s campaign, said that the nascent presidential candidate will not accept money from corporate PACs, following the lead of other Democratic hopefuls." (The Hill)

around the world

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Image via the U.S. Air Force.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing an ethics investigation tied to a corruption case involving a major construction company. "Canada’s ethics watchdog is investigating whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke the rules and pressured his former attorney general to help SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.settle corruption charges out of court. Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion confirmed his investigation Monday in a letter to two New Democratic Party lawmakers…The investigation comes as Trudeau’s new justice minister and attorney general, David Lametti, signals he may still ultimately intervene in the case of the Montreal engineering and construction giant. The brewing scandal has directly implicated Trudeau, who is seeking a second mandate from voters this fall." (Bloomberg)
  • The new CEO of Open Knowledge shares her thoughts on the future of everything open. Catherine Stihler writes, "this is my first week in my new role as Chief Executive of Open Knowledge International…I join OKI at a time when openness is at risk. The acceptance of basic facts is under threat, with many expert views dismissed and a culture of ‘anti-intellectualism’ from those on the extremes of politics. Facts are simply branded ‘fake news’. The rise of the far right and the far left brings with it an authoritarian approach that could return us to a closed society. The way forward is to resuscitate the three foundations of tolerance, facts and ideas, to prevent the drift to the extremes. I want to help harness the power of open data and unleash its potential for the public good." (Open Knowledge)
  • Check out the schedule for the upcoming Impacts of Civic Technology Conference. "We’ve just shared the schedule for our Impacts of Civic Technology conference, TICTeC, and in all honesty? We’re excited. It’s almost complete, but we’ll be adding a few more details of additional sessions once they’re confirmed. We’re also expecting a number of side events to spring up, too. Yes, that’s right, TICTeC has grown a fringe! TICTeC has been growing in momentum since its beginnings in 2014. This year, once again, thanks to a higher number of submissions than ever — and the increasing quality of those submissions — you’ll experience an unsurpassed line-up of speakers, each with deep insights into the field." (mySociety)
  • How a blockade has made Qataris more supportive of free speech and outspoken about politics. "In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates initiated a blockade against fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar. The 20-month old blockade has significantly disrupted the GCC and reverberated across regional politics. The impact on Qatar itself is less dramatic. The ruling family in Qatar is the same. The country still has good relations with the United States, Turkey and most of the world. The World Bank predicts Qatar’s economy will grow by 3 percent in both 2019 and 2020. The blockade triggered significant changes in Qatari public opinion, however. Two surveys which other researchers and I conducted shortly before the blockade and a year after show clear inflection points on a wide range of political attitudes. In particular, Qataris have become more outspoken about politics and more open to public criticism of the government and other institutions." (Washington Post)


A screenshot from a video showing a man being restrained after allegedly attacking BBC cameraman Ron Skeans.Screenshot from a video showing a man being restrained after allegedly attacking BBC cameraman Ron Skeans. Posted by Gary O'Donoghue.
  • A BBC cameraman was attacked at President Trump's rally in El Paso, Texas last night. "A BBC cameraman, assaulted during a speech by US President Donald Trump, was the victim of an 'incredibly violent attack', it has been claimed. Washington correspondent Gary O’Donoghue, who is blind, said his colleague Ron Skeans had been filming a rally in El Paso, Texas, when the incident happened. Describing what unfolded, he said a supporter of Mr Trump got on to the reporters’ platform, and pushed the camera into his colleague, before continuing to push Mr Skeans." (Bloomberg)
  • A longtime Trump family friend's quick ascent to power at the RNC. "On President's Day weekend, 15 years before Donald Trump would be sworn into office, he offered a friend of his son’s a ride from Palm Beach to New York on his plane. Now that friend of Donald Trump Jr.'s is one of the most powerful Republicans in campaign politics — a unifying figure inside the often warring Trump world, and a quiet supporter of what he describes as the president’s strategy to 'frack' the Democratic Party in 2020." (BuzzFeed)
  • This former lobbyist has continued to support his former clients' interests as a top official at the Interior Department. "As a lobbyist and lawyer, David Bernhardt fought for years on behalf of a group of California farmers to weaken Endangered Species Act protections for a finger-size fish, the delta smelt, to gain access to irrigation water. As a top official since 2017 at the Interior Department, Mr. Bernhardt has been finishing the job: He is working to strip away the rules the farmers had hired him to oppose." (New York Times)
  • Did the EPA violate the Hatch Act by releasing a political appointee's pro-Trump resignation letter? "A politically appointed adviser to the Environmental Protection Agency submitted a vocal resignation letter last week praising President Trump and denouncing the political “left.” That put the agency’s press office in an awkward position…The letter, according to news reports and confirmed by EPA to Government Executive, was provided to reporters by the press office. That prompted the nonprofit advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Monday to file a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel seeking a probe of an alleged Hatch Act violation. " (Government Executive)


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