Saturday, September 17, 2011

Open Meetings and the FOI

So now you really want to get involved in how emergency management practices are being conducted in your jurisdiction using your subject matter expertise, and concern for your community.

            What public meetings am I able to attend?


             Can I be restricted from attending?


             What if I have question to put before the meeting, if 
              the meeting is open for question or comments?

The first two question will be answered by the information provided below hopefully.
The third question shall have to be answered in an upcoming blog.


    

If an informed citizenry is to meaningfully participate in government or at least understand why government acts affecting their daily lives are taken, the process of decision making as well as the end results must be conducted in full view of the governed.
Oklahoma Ass’n of Municipal Attorneys v. State, 577 P.2d 1310, 1313-14 (Okla. 1978)

The Open Meeting Law Reference for all 50 States
Open Meeting Laws 2d
by  Ann Taylor Schwing


The publication of Open Meetings Laws 2d is sponsored by
International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA)


Open meeting laws apply principally to public, collegial, deliberative bodies, that is, bodies that meet as a group for deliberation and decision making. A key consideration in determining whether an entity is subject to the law is the public nature of the work it does.

Additional considerations include the extent to which the entity is supported by public funds and the extent to which the entity has the power to bind the State or a political subdivision of the State. As a general rule, a public body cannot escape open meeting requirements by delegating duties or powers to other entities or persons.

Open meeting laws may be applied to private entities when necessary to further the public policies of the open meeting laws.

Examples include:


FYI: Emergency Plans from Jurisdictions. Freedom of Information Act

Have a homeland security or emergency management question for your community that requires public documents or records that are not readily available?
Need to review the emergency or contingency plans for your community? 
Need to know how much funding has been provided to other communities within your jurisdication for emergency management planning, training, exercises, and long-term recovery?
Need to know what that funding is being spent on?
Key research may lay in obtaining and reviewing public documents that may be open to the public, or requested based on the Freedom of Information Act for federal, state, city, and local jurisdictions.

WHAT IS FOI?

Enacted in 1966, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that establishes the public's right to obtain information from federal government agencies. The FOIA is codified at 5 U.S.C. Section 552.

"Any person" can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, associations, and universities. In 1974, after the Watergate scandal, the Act was amended to force greater agency compliance. It was also amended in 1996 to allow for greater access to electronic information.
Freedom of information legislation comprises laws that guarantee access to data held by the state. They establish a "right-to-know" legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions.


Also variously referred to as open records or (especially in the United States) sunshine laws, governments are also typically bound by a duty to publish and promote openness. In many countries there are constitutional guarantees for the right of access to information, but usually these are unused if specific support legislation does not exist.

FEDERAL & STATE FOI Requests

The Act applies only to federal agencies. However, all of the states, as well as the District of Columbia and some territories, have enacted similar statutes to require disclosures by agencies of the state and of local governments, though some are significantly broader than others.

Some state and local government agencies attempt to get around state open records laws by claiming copyright for their works and then demanding high fees to license the public information. 

The ruling in Santa Clara v. CFAC will likely curtail the abuse of copyright to avoid public disclosure in California, but agencies in other states like Texas and New York continue to hide behind copyright.  Some states expand government transparency through open meeting laws, which require government meetings to be announced in advance and held publicly.

WHO DO I MAKE MAY REQUESTS TO?

The FOIA applies to Executive Branch departments, agencies, and offices; federal regulatory agencies; and federal corporations. Congress, the federal courts, and parts of the Executive Office of the President that function solely to advise and assist the President, are NOT subject to the FOIA.

Records obtainable under the FOIA include all "agency records" - such as print documents, photographs, videos, maps, e-mail and electronic records - that were created or obtained by a Federal agency and are, at the time the request is filed, in that agency's possession and control.

Agencies are required by FOIA to maintain information about how to make a FOIA request, including a handbook, reference guide, indexes, and descriptions of information locator systems. The best place to get this information is on the agencies' websites.

Doing research to determine the right office to send the FOIA request to within the right component of the right agency will make your FOIA efforts more productive.

Resources

For information on obtaining federal and state FOI contact,
     National Freedom of Information Center: 
http://www.nfoic.org/

For information on obtaining local city FOI information your local news agency, or publication would have a mulititude of information on procedures for obtaining this information

Managing and Reducing Risk. September 2019

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