D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson made his discomfort with public oversight clear under questioning by Kathy Patterson at the 2013 D.C. Open Government Summit March 13 at the National Press Club.
There are degrees to what is acceptable to everybody,” he told more than 100 attendees at the Sunshine week event sponsored by the D.C. Pro Chapter, the D.C. Open Government Coalition, the Press Club and the American University journalism school. Patterson, a former Council member, is the Coalition's president. Read more »
(Washington, D.C.) -- The D.C. Open Government Coalition today filed a lawsuit to compel disclosure of email correspondence in which members of the Council of the District of Columbia transacted public business through personal, non-governmental email accounts.
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court, challenges the Council’s denial of a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request for all such emails sent or received by Councilmembers during a 60-day period in early 2012. The issue came to the Coalition’s attention after press reports suggesting that D.C. government officials, including several Councilmembers, routinely conduct official business through personal email providers such as Gmail or Hotmail – a practice that could be used to evade the disclosure requirements of FOIA.
“The Council’s position, if unchallenged, would lead to a massive loophole in the District’s public-records laws,” said James McLaughlin, a member of the Coalition’s board and co-chairman of its legal committee. “Officials could nullify FOIA by simply doing their work over personal email accounts.” Read more »
In a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post Tuesday, D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan attempted to defend the Gray administration’s proposed Freedom of Information Act amendments by likening FOI Act requests to broad government subpoenas aimed at the newspaper or private citizens.
He asked, “How would The Post, or any citizen, react if the government could subpoena all of its records, no matter how voluminous, without giving a reason; demand that they be produced in a matter of days; and leave the courts powerless to get any explanation for the demand, to place any substantive limits on it or even to extend the time for response?” Read more »
Celebrating Sunshine Week 2012, the D.C. Open Government Coalition will present the “D.C. Open Government Summit” March 13 at the National Press Club.
D.C. Councilor Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) will share remarks on the Open Meetings Act of 2010 and on potential changes to the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. The event will also feature Ariel B. Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel to the D.C. Attorney General; V. David Zvenyach, general counsel to the D.C. Council; Mark Segraves, reporter and talk show host for WTOP Radio, ABC 7 News and DC 50 TV; and Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The event is co-sponsored by the National Press Club’s Freedom of the Press Committee.
The D.C. Council Dec. 20 took its final vote on sweeping ethics reform legislation that includes establishment of an Open Government Office to oversee and enforce the Open Meetings and Freedom of Information acts. Council Member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), chair of the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, introduced the bill in late November.
It is unclear when the Open Government Office will begin operation because the bill must be signed by the mayor and sent to Congress for review. The earliest the new law could take effect is late March, but then several events must occur, including appropriation of funding for the new board and appointment of board members. Read more »
Council Member Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced the Open Government Act of 2011 on March 15.
The bill would strengthen the recently created Open Government Office by giving it broad powers to enforce the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, it would amend the FOIA, improve transparency of the agency rulemaking process, and establish a single, publicly available database tracking government spending. The bill would also require city agencies to make public access to data an essential element of all electronic information management systems.
The bill is almost identical to Bill 18-777, which Cheh introduced last April. The Council's Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, which Cheh chairs, reported Bill 18-777 in early December 2010. But Cheh decided at the last minute not to bring the bill to the floor for a vote out of concern about the cost of implementaton. At the time the Council was attempting to cut the budget and re-allocate funds, and it was unlikely that funds would be available immediately to implement the statute. Read more »
The D.C. Council December 21 passed the Open Meetings Amendment Act of 2010 (Bill 18-716), improving the city's antiquated open meetings statute, but allowing the Council to adopt rules exempting itself from most of the statute's openness provisions.
The bill will create an Open Government Office, an independent agency nominally empowered to oversee and enforce the open meetings statute and the city's Freedom of Information Act. But the Office lacks the tools needed to operate effectively. A budget bill enacted by the Council provides $236,000 to fund the Office for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.
Although the bill makes the Council a "public body" covered by the open meetings statute, Council committees are not covered. A provision added at second reading requires the Council's rules to implement provisions applicable to other public bodies. In other words, the rules would have to incorporate the statute's 15 exemptions, limiting the reasons council members could hold secret sessions. Read more »
The D.C. Council December 7 passed the Open Meetings Amendment Act of 2010 (Bill 18-716) on first reading, improving the city's antiquated open meetings statute, but allowing the Council to adopt rules exempting itself from most of the statute's openness provisions.
The bill will create an Open Government Office, an independent agency nominally empowered to oversee and enforce the open meetings statute, but without the tools needed to operate effectively. It has no authority to oversee and enforce the city's Freedom of Information Act. A budget bill enacted by the Council provides $236,000 to fund the Office for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. Read more »
The D.C. City Council will consider two bills Tuesday to create an Open Government Office, amend the city’s Freedom of Information Act, and overhaul the antiquated open meetings statute. Late Thursday the Government Operations & Environment Committee voted unanimously to send the Open Government Act of 2010 and the Open Meetings Amendment Act of 2010 to the floor.
If it passes, Open Government Act will, within one year, create an independent agency to oversee and enforce the FOI Act and the open meetings statute. It includes amendments to the FOI Act to facilitate oversight. Read more »