In this week’s FOIA round-up, the Interior Department releases heavily redacted documents to regarding the deployment of law enforcement officials to assist Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border, Michigan authorities issue search warrants for the devices of former governor Rick Snyder as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the Flint water crisis, and the Intercept obtains emails suggesting the Tennessee governor’s office and Volkswagen worked together suppress the United Auto Workers’ attempts to unionize a factory in Chattanooga.
See a great use of public records we missed? Send over your favorite FOIA stories via email, on Twitter, or on Facebook, and maybe we will include them in the next roundup. And if you’d like even more inspiration, read past roundups.
Interior department releases heady redacted documents regarding Border Patrol assistance
The 47 law enforcement officers from the Interior Department who have been deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border, under a program initiated by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have made thousands of apprehensions, but details about the nature of the work they are doing remain secret, according to heavily redacted documents obtained by High Country News. Additional documents obtained from the National Park Service by FOIA request show that the NPS has spent more than $1.7 million on deployments between May 2018 and mid-February 2019. (In April, Grist obtained a planning document from the Interior Department from September of 2018, but details about where and how many people were being deployed to the border were also redacted).
At the same time, the Trump administration continues to attempt to cut funding to the Interior Department, which, among other mandates, is tasked with managing and protecting public land. In the President’s 2020 budget proposal for the Interior Department, which includes a $2 billion budget cut, “Securing the Southern border” is listed as a top priority.
Rick Snyder’s cellphone subject of search warrant in Flint water crisis investigation
The state-issued cellphones and other devices of former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and 66 other former and current Michigan government employees were the subject of search warrants issued by Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy in recent weeks, according to records obtained by Associated Press. The warrants suggest that the investigation into the Flint water crisis is ongoing and that Snyder may not be off the hook.
One warrant, signed May 19, lists all content from Snyder’s state-issued cellphone, iPad and computer hard drive. Similar information was sought from the devices of 33 employees who worked in his office, 11 in the Department of Environmental Quality and 22 in the Department of Health and Human Services.
In the five years since Flint officials decided to switch the city’s water source to the Flint river, poisoning residents, 15 state and local officials have been charged with criminal wrongdoing.
Read AP’s original report here.
Public records reveals communication between Bill Lee and Volkswagen ahead of union election
The office of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee communicated with Volkswagen about the United Auto Workers’ efforts to unionize workers at a Volkswagen factory in Chattanooga, according to emails obtained by the Intercept via a MuckRock request. The emails reveal that Volkswagen scheduled a visit from Lee to its Chattanooga facility on the same day that the UAW had attempted to schedule a union election. Members of the media were blocked from attending Lee’s visit to the factory, although a recording of the governor’s speech at the factory was leaked to the press and reveals his anti-union message to the factory workers.
On April 9, the day the UAW filed its original petition, Tony Niknejad, the governor’s policy director, sent an email to Liz Ashwood, a policy analyst for the governor, with the subject line “UAW and unions” and one sentence in the body: “Remind me to talk to you about project on that tomorrow.” Niknejad did not respond to requests for an interview.
The next day, Garnett Decosimo, a senior policy analyst in Lee’s office, emailed Womack, requesting a meeting so Womack could share his “thoughts” with them given his “experience with previous UAW efforts to organize the VW plant.” Decosimo had previously worked alongside Womack on Corker’s staff.
See the full story from the Intercept here.
Nevada legislature passes bill that would penalize government entities that fail to comply with the public records law
The Nevada state legislature passed a bill in the final days of the legislative session this week that would, among other changes, expand the mandate for government employees to respond to public records requests and penalize government entities that willfully fail to comply with requests. The first change is a provision to require government employees to “make a reasonable effort to assist the requester to focus the request in such a manner as to maximize the likelihood the requester will be able to inspect, copy or receive a copy of the public book or record as expeditiously as possible.” The second change adds a civil penalty, starting at $1,000 for a first violation, “if a court determines that a governmental entity willfully failed to comply with the provisions of this chapter concerning a request to inspect, copy or receive a copy of a public book or record.” The bill is now on Governor Steve Sisolak’s desk.
See the full text of the bill here.
Wisconsin Appeals Court rules that electronic records must be provided in electronic format
This week the Wisconsin Appeals Court upheld a lower court ruling that lawmakers must provide public records to requesters in an electronic format, rather than in print, when requested. The case involved a request from Bill Lueders, editor of The Progressive, for constituent correspondence to State representative Scott Krug’s (R - 72) office. Krug’s office provided Lueders with printouts of constituent emails to the office, and Lueders responded by asking for the electronic versions, which contained more information. Lueders sued when Krug’s office denied the request.
Read the court’s full decision here.