This Week in the Hot Seat: Transparency
What is the public’s right-to-know? A question that frequently rears its head as public officials debate over what records should be accessible to the public under current public record laws.
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Governor Whitmer's staff reviews Michigan's FOIA requests, even though she’s exempt from law
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is not subject to the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, but an internal memo shows her legal team is asking to review any communications from her office before they are released to the public by state departments that must follow the law.
Whitmer’s spokesperson called the policy a good government approach to increase efficiency, and officials from past administrations said governors’ offices typically expected advanced warning before any sensitive disclosures.
A leading open government advocate called the Whitmer memo “problematic,” however, because the review could further slow public records requests.
Read More | Bridge Michigan
For the first time, Pennsylvania Senate gives public online access to spending records
The Pennsylvania Senate for the first time is giving the public online access to the way the chamber and its elected members spend millions in taxpayer money on themselves.
Though a first for the legislature, and a win for taxpayers, the information provided online still does not give the public the full picture of the chamber’s spending.
Still, posting the expenses where the public has easy access to them is “long overdue,” said Russell Eshleman, head of the Department of Journalism at Penn State University. Taxpayers “deserve to know how their money is being spent,” he said.
Read More | Observer Reporter
New Jersey Health officials used unapproved text messaging platform, deleted messages, attorneys say
Lawyers for Gov. Phil Murphy revealed that health officials were communicating on Telegram in the administration’s latest legal filing in the whistleblower lawsuit brought by Christopher Neuwirth, an assistant health commissioner who was fired shortly after first wave peak of the coronavirus.
In a 308-page response countering Neuwirth’s claim that he was improperly fired last May, Murphy’s lawyers said Neuwirth required employees who reported to him “use a non-state-approved messaging application – Telegram – furthering burdening those state employees.”
The Open Public Records Act, or OPRA, does not specifically address encrypted messages but does include emails and text messages used for official business in its definition of government records. Such records are subject to public access unless they fall under one of more than two dozen exemptions.
Read More | North Jersey News
Vermont Supreme Court overturns secrecy ruling in records case
The Vermont Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling that allowed a private contractor hired to handle certain public work on behalf of state government to ignore requests under the Vermont Public Records Act.
The Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) contracted with Correct Care Solutions LLC and Correct Care Solutions Group Holdings LLC, doing business as Wellpath from 2010 to 2015 for all inmates in state custody. The state paid more than $90 million over 5 years to Wellpath.
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) filed a public records request in December 2015 with Wellpath, seeking any records relating to legal claims and lawsuits, along with resolutions stemming from the care provided.
Wellpath refused the records request on the grounds it was a private contractor and believed it was not subject to disclosure requirements under Vermont’s Public Records Act.
Read More | Bennington Banner
ARPA Funding for Public Records – ARPA vs CARES
The Federal Government continues its push to stimulate economic recovery and alleviate the strain many agencies are experiencing as a result of COVID-19. One of the first sources of funding was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion aid package ($150 billion direct to SLGs) signed into law in March 2020. Jurisdictions follow a set of steps to apply for this funding for public records projects. The deadline for spending was extended to 12/31/21.
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is the most recent funding relief package released in the United States. ARPA provides about $1 trillion in funding dedicated to economic recovery, $350 billion of which is earmarked as emergency funds deposited directly to funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments.
Read More | GovQA
Granicus Buys Public Records Technology Firm GovQA
In a press release announcing the news last week, Granicus said the acquisition will boost the strength of its Civic Engagement Platform tool for all governments, and further enable its clients to offer consistent and unified digital, automated services to communities.
“The public record request management sector has been blowing up recently,” said Granicus CEO Mark Hynes. “Clerks, public records offices and city councils are struggling with this. It’s a real pressing challenge.”
The stakes are high, he said, as records requests represent an area where failure to produce results in a timely and efficient manner can spark bad feelings among citizens.” GovQA’s records request technology can dramatically reduce the timeline and complexity of requests; and, when incorporated into the broader Granicus platform, will lead to further process improvements.
Read More | Granicus.com
GovQA's Upcoming Events
GovQA regularly hosts and moderates roundtables and webinars with partners, associations, customers, and other subject matter experts to create and expand opportunities for state and local government agency members to discuss the challenges they face.
New York State Association of Counties
California CLETS Users Group
League of California Cities Annual Conference
The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.