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Report's recommendations are universal

There is a pretty remarkable open government story coming out of Memphis this week. It concerns a report commissioned by the city’s mayor to review the city’s public records system.

The Plough Foundation prepared the report after interviewing more than two dozen city employees, news media representatives and open government advocates.

The report makes findings specific to Memphis within the context of Tennessee’s Public Records Act and it makes several broad recommendations, with sub-recommendations under each.

The working papers exemption is a big ol' mess

There’s a bill on offer in the Michigan legislature. As proposed by a Democratic representative from Grand Rapids, the bill would make the state’s Freedom of Information Act applicable to both the governor and the state legislature.
      I wish the Michiganders well. Getting state lawmakers and a governor to voluntarily expose themselves to the glare of the open records light is an uphill battle, no doubt. It’s one of those issues that lawmakers have trouble seeing the forest of good government through the trees of their own self interest.
     

Rules v. spirt (not to mention fairness)

Last week, the Roanoke Times published a short opinion piece by VCOG's Chip Woodrum Legislative Intern, Zhina Kamali. It's republished here on our website.

Kamali wrote about her first encounter in a General Assembly committee meeting where bills were killed by an unrecorded voice vote. Among other things, she noted how members fairly shouted their ayes and nays, which led her to wonder, "Are we at the GAB or at a concert where the band with the loudest crowd wins?"

If a vote isn't recorded, does it make a sound?

The following was written by Zhina Kamali, VCOG's first Chip Woodrum Legislative Internship and was published in The Roanoke Times on Feb. 16, 2015.

 

By Zhina Kamali

Each day I am at the General Assembly Building I think I have seen it all. And each day something new comes up that surprises me even more than the last.

Open data's promise

IN EARLY December, President Obama announced a series of measures aimed at closing the gap between citizens and law enforcement. One of those measures was a plan to distribute $263 million in funding for agencies to purchase body cameras that can be used during police interactions with citizens.

Conversations lead to innovation

This is a column about conversations. 

Give the people what they want

I went to the book store today. I like browsing, though sometimes I’m looking for something in particular. Like today. I’d heard there might be a book about a Vietnamese artist who painted complicated still lives of cats playing tennis next to the Panama Canal. I just had to have it!



A beautiful stack of best sellers greeted me at the door. They were very nice, and I sure did like knowing they were there, but I moved on to the information desk because I didn’t know whether to look for my book in the section for artists, animals, sports or history.



Let's not make this harder

Lately I’ve been seeing some pretty novel reasons why records cannot be provided to requesters. These aren’t in the same category as conflicting interpretations of exemptions, where one says a document is protected by an exemption and another claims the exemption doesn’t apply.

No, this is in the way records are delivered or not delivered, as the case may be.

The most recent example comes to via Hawes Spencer, formerly of The Hook and now doing reporting for WTVF radio.

Talking about public business

Talking about public business

There’s a phrase that gets bandied about occasionally by public officials when asked by reporters for comment about a particular matter. It’s meant as a conversation stopper; a statement against which no reasonable person could or would argue because it is meant to convey a certainty, as steadfast and unassailable as a the gaze of the Sphinx.

There are several versions of the phrase, but essentially it goes like this:

“I can’t comment on something we discussed in closed session.”

Ugly Mug

Fifteen years ago, there was a delayed, but nonetheless welcome ground shift in perception of what a public record is. By the turn of the century, just about everyone was already doing most of their reports and spreadsheets in electronic format, and email was well on its way to being the default mode of interoffice communication.

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