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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.

Secrets have a way of getting out

It's true that we don't know what secrets are being kept that we never find out about. It's like proving that the dog didn't bark. Even so, haven't you noticed that with government information in particular, it almost always has a way of coming out?

A recent story in the Daily Press reminded me of this fact.

Archiving a Governor

 

What did the Kaine administration know about the shootings at Virginia Tech five years ago and when?

Well, thanks to the Library of Virginia, we are starting to know the answer to that question, though it will be months before we have a bigger picture and we may never know all the answers.

Here's what's going on.

Consultant's report runaround

When a local government is faced with an issue -- how to repurpose an old building, whether to implement block scheduling in the high schools, how satisfied the workforce is, where to locate a new government building -- they often hire an outside consultant. The consultant comes in, asks a lot of questions, observes what is and isn't going on, and prepares a report.

What happens next isn't always so cut and dried.

When I think about this town or that

I'm writing this on the Amtrak train as winds its way from Williamsburg to D.C. It's a Spring Break trip to the Big City with my 5-year-old and a family we know from his school.

The newness of the train wore off after the first hour, and now he and the three other kids are well ensconced in Angry Birds and other shiny iPad apps.

Let's Talk About Fees

Let’s talk about fees. Fees for filling FOIA requests. Fair fees for filling FOIA requests.

Am I sounding too Dr. Seuss-like? Well, sometimes the fees I see some state and local agencies charge to fill requests for public records do resemble some sort of fantastical, tongue-twisting scenario only the late children’s fabulist could concoct.

Here’s the latest one to grab my attention. A requester will be billed:

Smart enough for government records

Did you know you’re not smart enough to read government information?

You don’t understand legal terminology. You don’t understand context. You can’t distinguish between facts and distortions, not to mention your lack of ability to pick up on self-serving statements.

So, rather than make you feel bad about yourself, some in government would like to help you out. If the information isn’t easily available to you, you’ll never know what you’re missing.

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