Sunlight weekly roundup - Tennessee Keeps ethics violations secret

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Zubedah Nanfuka

Aug 12, 2011, 3:29:01 PM8/12/11

Happy Friday everyone!

This week's Sunlight round-up is filled with FOI-related cases from different states, including Tennessee, California and Florida. Read the full post on Sunlight Foundation blog:

The Tennessee Ethics Commission recently turned down a request from TNReport (an online newsource) for the number of complaints and investigations that have been received by the Commission. Citing a section in the state’s code that gives the Commission the right to preserve confidentiality of all its proceedings including investigations, the Commission’s Executive Director Drew Rawlins, said that making the records public could create problems from people who may be against some cases. Tom Humphrey shares how the Commission has never found anyone guilty of violating any ethics rules on Humphrey on the Hill.

The Sunshine Review was slapped with a $22,000 bill by Miami-Dade county in Florida, for requesting for public information. Other counties have provided the same information for free, including Palm Beach county (in the same state) and Harris county in Texas. Michael Barnhart, the Sunshine Review’s president is joined by others who feel that it’s an outrageous fee which is perhaps being used by the county to deter the public from getting the information they have a right to know about. Kristin McMurray writes all about it on the Sunshine Review.

After struggling to get a B in content, C in clarity and C in accessibility, the city of Costa Mesa in California has finally upped its transparency. In a new dramatic move, the city recently released a detailed report of all its employee salaries including full and part-time staff. Sunshine advocates praised this effort as a proactive one from the city, and emphasized how citizens will now be encouraged to become more involved in their government. Joseph Serna shares  more on LA Now

The California Assembly seems to be operating in the dark. In an earlier report by the Sacramento Bee, the Assembly said the public had no right to see lawmakers' current office budget documents because it could be wrongly interpreted as punishment of lawmakers who do not vote in favor of key votes - especially if their budgets have been significantly slashed. One such lawmaker who recently got the “punishment” is Assemblyman Anthony Portantino. John Seiler writes how a secret legislative assembly can easily become a corrupt one on Cal Watchdog.

Making sure that state publications appear in timely manner especially when they are time sensitive, is one of the major open government best practices. A librarian for the North Carolina State Publications Clearinghouse at the Government & Heritage Library, Kurt knows all too well the importance of making sure that information is easily accessible electronically. See how he lays out other best practices on Government and Heritage Library Blog.

Andy Wilson

Aug 12, 2011, 4:01:47 PM8/12/11
Let me add to the roundup a little something we got really excited about.  A year and a half ago, I helped organize a working group to increase transparency at Austin Energy, our local municipal utility. We got the Austin City Council to pass an amended "competitive matters resolution" which outlined the things the utility would and would not disclose to the public.  It was so well received, it became the basis for a bill that was passed during this most recent Legislature in Texas, which amended our Texas open records law and made similar requirements on all municipal utilities in the state.

Based on this, a TV reporter in San Antonio was able to get access to documents that uncovered that CPS San Antonio had made a $5,000 donation to the Republican Party of Texas. Needless to say, the Democratic Mayor was not pleased and this is a little scandal.

Surprising the things you can find with a little transparency.

~~Andy Wilson
Public Citizen TX

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