This week’s FOIA roundup: Ukraine redactions and new officials, bills and squabbles in the states

This week’s FOIA roundup: Ukraine redactions and new officials, bills and squabbles in the states

News from the world of public records

Written by
Edited by Sarah Alvarez

The Good, the Bad, and the records

What the White House knew about the aid to Ukraine

Emails between the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Management and Budget on the issue of military aid to Ukraine have still not been released by the government, despite the subject being central to Congressional proceedings against President Trump.

The records were released to the Center of Public Integrity full of redactions and not released at all to The New York Times, which had also requested them via a Freedom of Information Act request.

MuckRock has joined with CPI to gather signatories on an open letter demanding disclosure. You can join that effort via our public Assignment.

New head of New York’s top office on open records

Shoshanah Bewlay is the new Executive Director of New York’s Committee on Open Government. The advisory office is tasked with providing guidance on all things FOIL, open government, and personal privacy.

Bewlay’s old job was as General Counsel to the state Office of Information Technology Services.

“It is an honor to be selected by Governor Cuomo and the Committee on Open Government to serve as the next Executive Director. Open and transparent government is a priority of Governor Cuomo,” she said, “and I look forward to working with the Committee to continue to highlight the importance of the Freedom of Information, Open Meetings and Personal Privacy Protection Laws.”

In 2017 Cuomo signed a bill covering attorneys fees for some public records court challenges but transparency advocates believe his administration is still failing to meet basic standards of disclosure.

You can find the state’s press release on Belway here and more in the Auburn Citizen.

Longshot bill in Michigan legislature would make public records free

The Wolverine state exempts the governor’s office and state Legislature from its FOIA laws, but state representative LaTanya Garrett, D-Detroit, just introduced a bill to prohibit public bodies from charging to fulfill public records requests and would also limit the time agencies have to respond.

No other state has comparable legislation.

Garrett’s bill is longshot for passage, at best, but another bill that would subject both the Governor and the Legislature to FOIA might just make it through the Legislature this year.

Read more in the Detroit Free Press.

A question of fees in South Carolina

The Myrtle Beach Sun News recently reported Horry County, SC sent the outlet multiple public records bills that lack a clear reasons for charges. The Sun News can’t get the county to answer questions about the charges because while some states require agencies to itemize fees and other states allow requesters to challenge agencies that don’t itemize, South Carolina is not one of them.

The latest invoice sent to the Sun was for records two other local agencies had been able to provide speedily and free. Horry County is one of multiple agencies currently involved in a lawsuit related to redevelopment of the local Air Force base, and the Sun News sent similar requests to the agencies involved and had better results.

The FOIA bill was not outrageous - the charge for $90.25 paled compared to other requests by the paper that resulted in five-digit invoices - it was only the first obstacle in the process. When the paper paid for the records to be released, it received 56 mostly-redacted pages. The County claimed that it had properly removed “correspondence or work products of legal counsel for a public body and any other material that would violate attorney-client relationships,” which is allowed under the state’s Public Records Law.

We’ve filed a request with Horry County for the communications and invoice related to this request.

Read more on The Myrtle Beach Sun News.

In Illinois, FOI for the people, but maybe not those in government

In Piatt County, Illinois, FOIA is being used as a tool to pry information from the government - by other members of the government.

Piatt County Board Chairman Ray Spencer is feuding with Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades over her emails with the media and members of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The request had been denied, citing multiple exemptions and claiming that since “Chairman Spencer is engaged in the disciplinary process against a particular employee,” it is “inappropriate for the requested information to be used against the employee.”

“FOIA was made for media, for citizens to get information about their government,” Piatt County State’s Attorney Dana Rhoades told the Piatt County Journal-Republican. “It’s not for government officials to use against other government citizens.”

Actually, FOIA is intended to provide individuals access to government records, regardless of the intended use for the information and despite a person’s relationship to the government.

Read more on the Journal-Republican.

FOI Fragments

Cato gets GLOMARed

The Cato Institute has received multiple GLOMAR responses from the FBI regarding its use of domestic surveillance on particular groups. The responses, which say they can neither confirm nor deny the agency’s use of spying, are relevant to a number of domestic media and policy organizations.

Protests at City Council meeting over refusal to release footage in police shooting

Waukegan, Illinois has yet to release body camera footage of the police custody death of Avion Cotton. At a recent city council meeting, Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham told aggrieved protesters that the footage was still part of an Illinois State Police investigation into the event.

Police officer application materials

An Arkansas police officer accused of forging his high school diploma has resigned. A copy of his transcript was made accessible via an Arkansas FOIA request.

Virginia Board of Supervisors votes to keep meetings under closer guard

The Board of Supervisors in Loudon, Virginia have voted to restrict members’ abilities to speak publicly about closed door meetings. The state has no such requirement, and the rule is an expansion of secrecy around already guarded conversations on public matters.

Coming up on MuckRock

Facial recognition

Next week, we’ll have an update from our project with Open the Government, Police Surveillance: Facial Recognition in Your Backyard. Stay tuned, we’re excited about this one.

These updates right to your inbox!

Is this round-up a bright spot for you? Does it help inspire ideas or just keep you up to date? We’re thinking about turning it into a newsletter you can get right to your inbox. Would you vote yea, or nah? We also requesting ideas for a good name for this feature. Send them our way if you have them and, of course, we’ll credit you.

Read a great FOIA-based news story we should highlight? Let us know and maybe we can include it in our next round-up! Send it over via email, on Twitter, or onFacebook.

Image via Village of Mansfield, Illinois