Whether you’re digging into state house harassment or what public employees get paid to quit their job, there’s some great examples to learn from reading the reporting out there. Here’s some of our favorites from this past week.
If you’re feeling inspired by these requests, file a public records request of your own. And if you find a FOIA story worth sharing, send it over via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we’ll include it in the next roundup.
Get paid to quit your job
It’s not just a promise from shady online ads: It’s also apparently what happened in a shady utility deal, as reported by Dave Hendricks for CentralValley.com which highlights the importance of making severance agreements public - and the lengths that some agencies will go towards keeping them secret.
From Hendricks reporting:
The utility took extraordinary steps to keep the agreements and six-figure payments secret. A majority of the utility board authorized Cancino to negotiate the severance agreements and make the payments without any further approval from the board keeping the board in the dark. The severance agreements also included provisions designed to keep the details secret and protect the documents from disclosure.
A confidentiality clause prevented the employees and the utility from discussing the severance packages. The agreements also included a novel legal argument: Citing Boeing v. Paxton, a Texas Supreme Court case that created a new exception to the state Public Information Act for business records that may provide a competitive advantage to another party, the agreements state “the contents of this settlement do not meet the definition of public information and/or are excepted from disclosure.”
But the backstory to the deal, which netted two employees who had previously made less than $100,000 a year each a combined severance package totaling $489,000, is a fascinating read about how politics at the local and state level often clash - and leave taxpayers with the bill.
The high and hidden cost of harassment
The Sacramento Bee has a great investigation looking at sexual harassment settlements in the state of California. The settlements total millions - the University of California alone paid out $2.7 million to settle just two cases in the past nine months alone - but the state has no centralized tracking of the problem, and no idea of the scope.
That also means that there’s seldom a public reckoning, and what one expert termed “a complete lack of accountability.”
Kansas’ secrecy kills
An eleven-person team at the Kansas City Star has done one of the most thorough, moving investigations into government secrecy I’ve seen, detailing not just its impact on towns where citizens are shut out of the public process but devastated families left in the dark after their children are killed - or even demanding their silence regarding agency failures.
Kudos to the amazing work of Laura Bauer, Judy L. Thomas, Kelsey Ryan, Max Londberg, Bryan Lowry, Andy Marso, Steve Vockrodt, Hunter Woodall, Jill Toyoshiba, Neil Nakahodo, and Leah Becerra, and hopefully their report opens eyes to the importance of a public and accountable government.