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Teaching our kids about open government

I read an article today about how Florida is launching a new test for middle schoolers to prove that they know as much about how their government works as they do about “Snooki & Jwoww.”

Changes to FOIA for 7/1/12

Come July 1, a lot of new laws will go into effect, proof that the men and women we send to Richmond each year really do accomplish something.

There are some changes to the Freedom of Information Act, but luckily, as compared to some years, the changes are few and do not represent any major policy shifts.

For instance, there are only two new exemptions. There were years when there would be seven to 10 exemptions, so two is pretty good in my book.

FOIA from UVa to Town of Podunk

There was nothing special about Teresa Sullivan’s firing.

Well, sure, we’re talking about the state’s flagship university, and she was one of the state’s highest paid employees, and she held one of the most coveted jobs in American academia.

But for all that, in the eyes of the Freedom of Information Act’s meeting provisions, President Sullivan was no different from Zoe the city parking attendant.

And the Board of Visitors at Mr. Jefferson’s University was no different from the Town of Podunk or any other local government, regional authority, state board, etc.

Of course and email isn't a meeting. Right?

Of course an email is not a meeting. It’s mail. Electronic mail. It’s no different from sending your friends, colleagues and co-workers notes thrown over the cubicle wall; or dispatching a messenger to deliver a memo across town; or actually putting a stamp on an envelope and -- mon dieu! -- dropping it in a mailbox for the postman to spirit away to its intended.

Let the public speak

Some public bodies really make it seem like they don’t want to hear what you have to say.

It’s not unusual for time limits to be placed on comments made by the public at public meetings. Three minutes is a pretty common limit.

Bodies needed at public body meetings

The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council will be holding three workgroups this summer, and all will require input from the public, as well as from the “stakeholders,” people like me who advocate for certain causes.

Civil penalties are there for a reason

Did you know that in Florida, a government employee’s failure to comply with the state’s public records act can result in not only a $1,000 fine, but also one year in jail? Or both! It’s no mere theoretical penalty, it’s been imposed.

Fines imposed on Washington state and local officials have ballooned from $108,000 in 2006 to nearly $1.7 million in 2011, according to an examination of Public Records Act cases by a Seattle television station.

Campaign finance: open to your own conclusions

When I wrote two weeks ago about how I try to concentrate on the access issue, not the underlying controversy, when lending citizens a hand in understanding FOIA, I did not intend to make it one of a two-part series. Nonetheless, two events have me revisiting the notion today.

Carve outs carve up access to public records

A few years back, you might remember, a little-known organization at the time called the Know Campaign made headlines when it was discovered the group had obtained voting history information and planned to send out personalized mailings to hundreds of households detailing when they’d voted in the past.

Focus on the access issue

Undoubtedly this will sound harsh. Cold. But here it is:

I don't care if there's going to be a new road running through your neighborhood. It doesn't matter to me if your child is redistricted to go to a new school. I don't give a hoot whether the community center is repurposed.

Well, thanks a lot, Ms. Rhyne. Don't let that door hit you on the way out.

Wait! Please. Let me explain.

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