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OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 16, 2017
Indiana officials close records on school district
State officials won't release a new report that examines health insurance costs at an eastern Indiana school district. The decision to withhold the information comes as the public prepares to comment on whether the state should take control of the financially struggling Muncie Community Schools, The Star Press reported. The state-appointed emergency managers overseeing the district will also soon make recommendations about whether to cut academic programs, close schools and eliminate teaching positions. The state's Distressed Unit Appeal Board signed a contract last month with emergency management firm Administrator Assistance for the audit. The report was compiled by RE Sutton & Associates, an employee-benefit and insurance brokerage consultant. It aims to provide the district and emergency managers with information about acquiring a new health insurance plan, which makes it exempt from the Access to Public Records Act, said Daniel Shackle, an attorney representing the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance.
North Dakota governor knew of commissioner's arrest weeks before revealed
Gov. Doug Burgum learned of the North Dakota tax commissioner's recent drunken driving arrest more than two weeks before it was publicly disclosed. Spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Nov. 8 that Burgum learned within days of Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger's Sept. 30 arrest. Rauschenberger disclosed it on Oct. 20. Nowatzki says Rauschenberger is an "independently elected official" and it was up to him when to disclose the arrest. Nowatzki says the case was filed on Oct. 6 and became a record accessible to the public at that time.
Democratic-NPL executive director Scott McNeil in a statement criticized Burgum for "withholding" the news. The timing issue surfaced as part of emails and text messages that political blogger and former Democratic state Sen. Tyler Axness obtained through an open records request.
Arkansas got execution drug made by resistant manufacturer
One of the three drugs Arkansas planned to use in a lethal injection this week was made by a New York company that says it won't sell its products if it fears they'll be used in executions, court documents released Nov. 8 show. A package insert and drug label for the state's supply of midazolam released by the state in Pulaski County Circuit Court identifies Athenex as the maker of the drug, one of three used in Arkansas' lethal injection process. The insert was included as part of an affidavit filed by state Correction Department officials.
The affidavit was filed the day after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce ordered the Department of Correction to release a copy of the insert to Steven Shults, an attorney who had sued the state for the document. The Arkansas Supreme Court last week ruled that a state law keeping the source of Arkansas' execution drugs secret applied to suppliers and sellers, but not drug manufacturers.
Public report not created in Topeka man's shooting by police
An advocate for open government contends the Topeka and Lawrence police departments are trying to bypass the state's open records laws by not creating a standard public document on the fatal shooting of a man by Topeka police officers more than a month ago.
Both departments have denied requests for incident and offense reports on the Sept. 28 shooting of Dominique White, which is being investigated by the Lawrence police department. They have not created the first page of the Kansas Standard Offense Report, which is a public record under state law and is routinely released, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. Ron Keefover, president of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government, said he had never heard of a police department failing to issue such a report.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 10, 2017
Slain man was shot in back by police, death certificate says
The death certificate for a black man killed by police in Kansas' capital city in September says he died from gunshot wounds to his back. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that it obtained a copy of Dominique White's death certificate Saturday. The document isn't a public record. Topeka police said initially that White was shot after a struggle and that at least one shot struck his chest. The death certificate lists "gunshot wounds of back" as the immediate cause of death for White, who was 30 and just months out of prison after being prosecuted for burglary and illegal gun possession. Kelly White, his father, said he believes his son was running away from Topeka police when he was killed. Police authorities declined Monday, Nov. 6, to release body camera footage from the officers involved in the shooting and other officers at the scene. Each department cited provisions of the Kansas Open Records Act that allow law enforcement agencies to keep criminal investigation records closed.
North Dakota attorney general says city violated open records laws
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says the city of Mandan violated open records laws by failing to respond to a request in a timely manner.
The city on June 24 received a request for records relating to the employment of a certain named individual and did not respond until July 18. City officials say the delay was due to numerous inquiries from the requester, as well as dealing with its budget and other deadlines. Stenehjem says the city failed to respond to the request within a reasonable time. He says while there are no further measures to be taken by the city, it should review its obligations under open records laws
Court: Withheld evidence means new trial in racial killing
Three U.S. servicemen who have been in prison for 25 years for a racially-motivated murder are entitled to a new trial because prosecutors improperly withheld evidence that would have helped the men's defense, Georgia's highest court ruled Thursday, Nov. 2. Stanley Jackson, a black man, was fatally shot around 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1992, while standing on a corner in a high-crime part of Savannah. Three white servicemen stationed at nearby Fort Stewart — Mark Jason Jones, Kenneth Eric Gardiner and Dominic Brian Lucci — were arrested less than an hour later and charged with murder. State prosecutors failed to disclose a police report that described a similar racially-motivated incident later that night after they were in custody, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice P. Harris Hines wrote in a unanimous opinion. After police records were released in response to a 2010 open records request, the three men challenged their conviction on constitutional grounds.
Georgia attorney general quits defense in server wiping case
The Georgia attorney general's office will no longer represent the state's top elections official in an elections integrity lawsuit filed three days before a crucial computer server was quietly wiped clean. The lawsuit aims to force Georgia to retire its antiquated and heavily questioned touchscreen election technology, which does not provide an auditable paper trail. The server in question was a statewide staging location for key election-related data. It made headlines in June after a security expert disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn't fixed for six months after he first reported it to election authorities. Personal data was exposed for Georgia's 6.7 million voters, as were passwords used by county officials to access files.
Wisconsin Assembly Committee passes bill limiting access to police body cams
It would be more difficult for the public to view footage taken on police body cameras under a Republican-backed bill that won approval from a Wisconsin Assembly committee Tuesday, Oct. 31, over objections from Democrats and open records advocates.Opponents say the measure, which has support from law enforcement agencies across the state, will worsen relations between the police and communities they serve. Supporters say it will protect the privacy of people captured on body camera footage while also establishing statewide guidelines. Thirty other states have laws related to police body cameras. Of those, 18 address how data captured on the cameras are handled under open records laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Nov. 2, 2017
Records: Connecticut offered to buy campus to hold onto GE
Before General Electric decided to relocate its long-established Connecticut headquarters, state officials offered to buy the company's sprawling 66-acre suburban campus so GE could move to a more urban area within the state. It was one of three options offered by Connecticut officials, according to a proposal presented to GE in hopes of fending off a move. The proposal reveals the lengths Connecticut officials were willing to go through to keep the cache of GE and hundreds of jobs in the state. A draft copy of Connecticut's proposal, obtained by AP through an open records request, shows photos and details of various office complexes, mostly in Stamford, which is about 34 miles northeast of New York City and located along Amtrak and commuter rail lines.
Judge: State police must turn over pay stubs, overtime data
A judge has told the New Jersey state police they must hand over employee pay stubs and overtime data to an open records advocate who sued for them. State Police officials maintain that disclosing how much troopers make in overtime would pose a security threat because the top overtime earners often work in sensitive areas. The records are being sought by John Paff, an open records advocate who regularly files records requests and posts the results on his blog. His attorney told NJ Advance Media she found the duty assignments of multiple troopers who work in sensitive areas by using information found on social media sites, including the state police Facebook page. The state Attorney General's Office, which represented the state police, declined comment on whether they would appeal.
Ohio proposal to release some grand jury records open for comment
The public can submit comments on a proposed rule change that could lead to some Ohio grand jury records being released to the public. The Columbus Dispatch reports a task force appointed by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor in the wake of police shootings recommended the rule change last year concerning secret grand jury proceedings.
The aim of the task force was to increase the public's confidence in the grand jury system following fatal police shootings of blacks that resulted in no criminal charges against officers. The change would allow members of the public to petition a court to open records of grand jury proceedings. The Supreme Court has until mid-January to decide whether to submit the change to the Ohio Legislature for approval.
Iowa State Patrol leader began outside firm without approval
An Iowa State Patrol commander started a consulting firm prior to receiving mandatory approval for outside work and is using photos of himself at government-funded training events to promote the fledgling venture, a review by The Associated Press shows. Capt. Ken Clary, who oversees dozens of troopers who patrol northeastern Iowa, is a founding partner of the year-old Brinkley, Clary and Thomas LLC, which advertises law enforcement litigation and recruitment services. His partners are Mason City Police Chief Jeff Brinkley and Barry Thomas, chief deputy of the Story County Sheriff's Office in Ames. The corporation's website shows a photo of Clary at the FBI National Academy, noting that he was one of 225 law enforcement executives picked to attend the "prestigious training." The state spent $1,867.44 sending Clary to the 10-week program, which concluded in September and was also subsidized by the FBI, according to records obtained through an open records request.
Georgia election server wiped after suit filed
A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned. The server's data was destroyed July 7 by technicians at the Center for Elections Systems at Kennesaw State University, which runs the state's election system. The data wipe was revealed in an email sent last week from an assistant state attorney general to plaintiffs in the case that was later obtained by the AP. More emails obtained in a public records request confirmed the wipe. The lawsuit, filed July 3 by a diverse group of election reform advocates, aims to force Georgia to retire its antiquated and heavily criticized election technology. The server in question, which served as a statewide staging location for key election-related data, made national headlines in June after a security expert disclosed a gaping security hole that wasn't fixed six months after he reported it to election authorities.
Juvenile inmates reached prison roof, threw items at guards
Four juvenile inmates reached the roof of a Wisconsin prison housing unit in August, throwing shingles, rocks and pieces of metal at guards before they were subdued, an incident report released Oct. 26 under the state open records law shows. The incident is among a stream of violent clashes between guards and inmates at the prison since a federal court order in July requiring a reduction in the use of pepper spray and solitary confinement. The shared campuses of Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake prisons, which house about 160 boy and girl juvenile inmates, have been under federal investigation for nearly three years and are the subject of multiple lawsuits.
University violated law by denying newspaper's request
A ruling by Kentucky's attorney general says the University of Louisville violated the state's open records law by denying a newspaper's request for emails on the former university president's hard drive. The Courier-Journal requested emails between university officials in June, which the school rejected, citing an ongoing investigation. The Oct. 17 ruling states there's nothing in the record to indicate how the release of the evidence would have negatively impacted the investigation. University spokesman John Karman says the university will continue to study the ruling before determining any steps. Former President James Ramsey's hard drive was the focus of auditors who were looking into his alleged misspending. The computer was wiped clean by the school's information technology department despite an order to preserve the hard drive and other records.
South Carolina GOP Caucus wants records suit by AP dismissed
City agrees to redact personal info from crash reports
A Tennessee city will stop releasing traffic accident reports with unredacted personal information following a federal lawsuit questioning the efficacy of an ethical rule requiring attorneys to wait 30 days before contacting someone involved in a serious crash.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports Chattanooga was ordered to prepare redacted copies in compliance with Tennessee Office of Open Records policy. City Attorney Phil Noblett says driver's license numbers, names and addresses will only be provided to involved parties, their lawyers or their insurance companies. Record requestors who use the information for wrongful solicitation could be charged with a misdemeanor. Attorney Jay Kennamer filed the lawsuit in September after a medical company contacted a woman days after she had been in a crash and offered to refer her to an attorney.
South Carolina GOP Caucus: Open records law doesn't apply
South Carolina Republicans have defended their decision not to give reporters records involving a political consultant charged in a probe of possible Statehouse corruption in their state, arguing Wednesday, Oct. 25, that the courts have no purview over their internal decision-making. The arguments came during a hearing over whether a judge should dismiss a lawsuit filed in April against the House Republican Caucus by a coalition of media outlets including The Associated Press. The coalition has been looking for items sought by special prosecutor David Pascoe in his ongoing probe into allegations of corruption in South Carolina's Statehouse.
BuzzFeed sues Kris Kobach over denied records requests
BuzzFeed Inc. is suing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and his office for refusing to release emails containing any of 30 terms that relate to immigration or the election. The lawsuit comes after a BuzzFeed reporter asked Kobach's office in June for emails sent or received May 1 that include terms such as ICE, immigrant, Trump, voter, fraud and Mexican. The secretary of state's office at first asked for $1,025 for 13 hours of work and an attorney's review, then refused to release any records when the reported challenged the cost, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Shawnee County District Court. BuzzFeed is asking that Kobach's office be ordered to provide the documents and pay for attorney fees, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Parents of teenager who vanished in 1988 hope for answers
The parents of a Kansas teenager who vanished nearly 30 years ago hope a trial next month will provide clues about whether their son was murdered after he was last seen at a high school graduation party and if his disappearance was properly investigated. Harold and Alberta Leach of Linwood, Kansas, sued Leavenworth County in civil court after county officials rejected their request through the state's open records act to see documents from the April 1988 through December 1992 investigation of 17-year-old Randy Leach's disappearance. The parents believe Randy is dead but said they filed the lawsuit because they have done everything they can think of to find answers.
Georgia's immigration enforcement panel draws scrutiny
When Georgia lawmakers passed a sweeping law cracking down on illegal immigration in 2011, they created a board to hold state and local government officials accountable. Over the next six years the Immigration Enforcement Review Board received 20 complaints to investigate, according to documents obtained through Georgia’s Open Records Act. And all but one came from the same person: D.A. King, a longtime anti-illegal immigration activist from Marietta. King, who has sparred with advocates for immigrants, said he helped develop the comprehensive state law that created the board, House Bill 87. So far, only one of the 20 complaints the board has received has resulted in a sanction: Atlanta paid the board a $1,000 fine in August.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Oct. 26, 2017
More than a dozen states still refuse to release voter data
Justice Department won't release North Charleston report
The U.S. Justice Department has refused to release a report on the North Charleston Police Department after the shooting death of an unarmed black man by a white officer in South Carolina. The federal agency said it was holding onto the material because of its "commitment to respecting local law enforcement," The Post and Courier of Charleston reported. The newspaper filed an open records request for the report sought by North Charleston officials after the 2015 shooting of Walter Scott. The Justice Department's Chaun Eason said the Justice Department no longer releases reports of investigations of local police. In April 2015, Scott was pulled over for a traffic violation by patrolman Michael Slager, who said he fired in self-defense when Scott tried to grab his Taser. Eyewitness video shows Scott was shot as he ran away. Slager pleaded guilty to federal charges and awaits sentencing.
Emails: Protests spur college officials to talk with players
As protests over racial injustice grab national attention in pro sports, some college and university officials are having pre-emptive talks with student-athletes and consulting each other amid concerns that such actions will spread to college sports, according to emails released Thursday. After five black cheerleaders at Kennesaw State University knelt during the national anthem at a September football game, athletic officials there sought advice from their counterparts at schools including the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Duke University and Purdue University. The responses they got back offer a glimpse at what's happening in college athletic programs trying to strike a balance between supporting free expression and offending fans and donors. The emails were released Thursday in response to a request for Kennesaw State documents under Georgia's open records law. It was filed by Davante Lewis, the brother of the one of the cheerleaders who took a knee.
Court: UW must turn over notes to animal rights group
A Wisconsin appeals court says an animal rights group is entitled to a University of Wisconsin System animal experimentation oversight committee's meeting notes. A Dane County judge ruled last year that the Animal Legal Defense Fund wasn't entitled to 10 documents created during an Animal Care and Use Committee meeting in March 2014. The judge said the documents were notes prepared for the originator's personal use and therefore not subject to the state's open records law. The 4th District Court of Appeals reversed that ruling Thursday, Oct. 19. The court found the documents are notes but they were shared among UW employees to create the meeting's minutes and therefore weren't prepared for their creators' personal use. The state Justice Department represented UW. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos says agency attorneys are reviewing the decision.
Texts: Sheriff, lawmaker pushed to stop cheerleader protest
A powerful lawmaker texted a Georgia sheriff and recounted with pride how the two pressured a university president to take action after black cheerleaders knelt during the national anthem at a football game. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the text messages under Georgia's open records act. Kennesaw State University cheerleaders were told they'd be kept off the field in a stadium tunnel at future pregame activities after five of them knelt to protest racial injustice at the game Sept. 30. In the texts, state Republican Rep. Earl Ehrhart and Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren thanked each other for their patriotism. Ehrhart said Kennesaw State President Sam Olens had to be pressed to act.
"He had to be dragged there but with you and I pushing he had no choice. Thanks for your patriotism my friend," Ehrhart wrote to the sheriff.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Oct. 19, 2017
Judge: University should let attorney general view documents
A judge has ordered Kentucky State University to let the attorney general examine some documents about alleged sexual misconduct of some of the school's employees. The University of Kentucky's student newspaper asked to see the records last year. But Kentucky State University officials denied the request, saying it would disclose private information. The newspaper appealed that denial to Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, who has jurisdiction over the state's open records law. Beshear asked to view the documents in private before he made a decision on whether they should be public. But Kentucky State University officials refused to let Beshear see the documents. Judge Thomas Wingate ruled Oct. 13 that not letting Beshear to look at the documents "could only thwart the public interest of transparency in government."
Sutton, Jackley support opening access to government records
Two candidates for South Dakota governor have committed to supporting legislation that would give the public access to additional government records including officials' correspondence, a major potential shift in state open records law. Democratic state Sen. Billie Sutton recently proposed draft legislation that would remove exemptions restricting access to public employees' correspondence, memoranda, calendars, working papers and telephone call records. Attorney General Marty Jackley, a Republican also running for governor, said he would sign such legislation if elected. Sutton said he would pursue the measure as governor — should he succeed outgoing GOP Gov. Dennis Daugaard — if it isn't approved before then. Daugaard can't run again next year because of term limits and leaves office in 2019.
Chancellor raises concern about protecting research
Potential customers who are interested in teaming with North Dakota researchers on fields like unmanned aircraft are balking because of the state's open records laws, the head of the university system says. Chancellor Mark Hagerott told the state Board of Higher Education during last month's meeting that some leading research universities are afraid to partner on projects because they fear the state isn't doing enough to protect its data, especially in light of recent worldwide events involving the spread of information. "We literally could have the Chinese asking for all of our research contacts," Hagerott said. "We will not have partners if it continues this way." Hagerott, who was the focus of a 2016 open records dispute that was made public last month, told The Associated Press that he was raising the point "as an open question" and the issue would be addressed by the board's governance committee.
Montana judge orders release of US Rep. Gianforte's mugshot
A Montana judge has ordered the release of a mugshot taken of the state's lone congressman after he was convicted of assaulting a reporter on the eve of the special election that put him in office. Gallatin County District Judge Holly Brown ruled Wednesday that the booking shot of Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte should be made public. County Attorney Marty Lambert would not release the image without a court order, arguing it is confidential criminal justice information. Several media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed motions asking that the booking shot be released. Neither Gianforte nor Lambert opposed the release of the photo. Gianforte pleaded guilty to assaulting Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on May 24 as Jacobs sought to question him about health care legislation. Jacobs said Gianforte "body slammed" him.
Wisconsin professors raised partisanship worries over center
University of Wisconsin political science professors involved in the creation of a new publicly funded policy center expressed concern that there wasn't enough balance between Democratic and Republican speakers at its first planned major event, newly released emails show. The Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership was announced in May and it received $3 million in the state budget that Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed last month. Liberals worried it would serve as a conservative think tank despite assurances from university leaders that it wouldn't be partisan. E-mails obtained by the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now under the state open records law that were provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Oct. 11, show that professors raised red flags early on.
Iowa judge fired for dismissing case due to unclear acronym
Iowa's prisons agency has fired a judge who cited confusion about an acronym in an inmate's disciplinary report when she refused to punish him for failing to pay back $10 he borrowed, the judge's termination letter shows. Administrative Law Judge Renee Sneitzer alleges her firing amounts to retaliation, renewing questions about the independence of judges who work for the Department of Corrections. In an Aug. 28 letter obtained under the open records law, Savala told Sneitzer that she was being fired because she ignored his July 7 order to send back any problematic reports "so that staff have an opportunity to correct." "You dismissed an offender discipline report simply because the acronym 'DH' appeared in the report and you did not follow my supervisory directive in remanding the report" in violation of work rules, Savala wrote.
Transparency advocates push for cellphone photographs of public records
Open records advocates are pushing for Tennessee agencies to allow citizens to take cellphone photographs of public records. In January, The Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel issued a model policy that forbade requestors from making copies of records with personal equipment, following the adoption of a state law requiring government offices to establish written public records policies. State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, told The Tennessean the restrictions, adopted by the Wildlife Resource Agency and Department of Transportation, put an undue burden on requestors. Bell asked the two departments to review their policies Sept. 20 and petitioned the Office of Open Records Counsel to draft new language. State Comptroller Justin Wilson said the counsel believes the language is appropriate. Bell said he might sponsor a bill addressing the issue.
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • Oct. 12, 2017
Official: Kentucky obligated to reveal investors in company
Gov. Matt Bevin's administration wrongfully denied a newspaper's request for records identifying shareholders and investors in a company receiving millions of dollars in public support for a new aluminum plant, Kentucky's attorney general said. The state Cabinet for Economic Development violated open records law by refusing The Courier-Journal's request for the names of those owning shares in Braidy Industries Inc., according to the ruling released Monday, Oct. 9. The identities "are unquestionably a matter of public interest," the ruling by Attorney General Andy Beshear's office said.
Records: Retiring county manager doubled pay before leaving
A county manager in North Carolina more than doubled her pay in the final six months before she retired, according to records. Local media reported that records released Thursday, Oct. 5, show former Buncombe County manager Wanda Greene was paid more than $500,000 in the final six months before she retired July 1. That included her pay, a retirement payout and a retention bonus she gave herself and 10 other employees. Greene had a base annual salary of $247,000. She was county manager for 20 years. The records were released in response to an open records request by Asheville-area media. County attorney Michael Frue would not discuss whether the pay was illegal. Greene's attorney, Thomas Amburgey, would not talk about the matter Thursday. The U.S. Attorney's Office is investigating the pay.
Missouri resident says governor blocked her for puke emoji
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens' staff say the Republican's popular Facebook and Twitter accounts are unofficial and therefore exempt from public records requests, including one seeking the number of users he's blocked from seeing content on those accounts. Greitens' office denied public records requests from the Columbia Missourian for the number of users blocked from the governor's Facebook and Twitter accounts and copies of his direct messages, the newspaper reported. Blocking users on Facebook and Twitter restricts their ability to see and interact with content with the blocked account. Greitens' attorney, Sarah Madden, said Greitens created those accounts before taking office in January and they are not the governor's official accounts, making them exempt from state open-records laws.
First hearing in public records lawsuit against Legislature
OPEN RECORDS, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION • OCT. 5, 2017