Saturday, March 28, 2009

Opening Doors: Finding the Keys to Open Government

Check out's webcast; it presents a great opportunity for the public to be involved in the crafting of this directive. During the webcast, individuals who are intimately involved in formulating the administration's policies and agendas will explain the initiative's goals, receive feedback from the audience, and let members of the public know how they can continue to participate in the discussion.

The debut of TAP MN

Eagle-eyed Todd Kruse brings this to our attention. The Minnesota Management & Budget Office launched its long-awaited web site to track state spending: the Transparency and Accountability Project for Minnesota (TAP MN) . TAP MN can also be used to track Minnesota’s use of federal stimulus dollars. State agencies and the public can request spending reports by agency, fund, category or vendor. Look for updates often. It will be interesting to compare this to the federal version of this database,

Helen Burke, MNCOGI Chair

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sunshine Week & Finnegan Award in the News

Now that the week is over it’s fun to take a look at the coverage we got – and are getting:

Newspapers provide broadest access to government records - Jim Pumarlo wrote a nice article for the Minnesota Newspaper Association

Jim Neumeister was interviewed on Midday (Minnesota Public Radio)

Rich Neumeister, recipient of the 2009 John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award, will be interviewed on this week’s Almanac: At the Capitol, with Mary Lahammer. Air times are Wednesday, March 25 at 10:00 p.m. and Thursday, March 26, at 4:00 a.m. on Channel 2. Channel 17 will air the program on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 2:00 a.m, 7:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunshine Week Recap

Sunshine Week generated a number of events and lively exchanges, including some local disagreement about a national survey of state government information available online. That survey engendered a March 15 Star Tribune article by Liz Riggs of AP headlined “Survey:65 percent of Minnesota government records online.”

Not so fast, responds Charlie Quimby on the Growth & Justice blog. Quimby notes that the headline is misleading “since the sponsors certainly did not measure all types of records, and 100 percent of all records would hardly be a desirable goal.”

It’s an interesting exchange, emphasizing that, though accessible information is only one aspect of “developing a culture of fiscal discipline and accountability”, it’s an aspects worthy of public attention.

The Top Ten Most Wanted Government Documents

The Center for Democracy and Technology recently released a report on the most wanted federal documents. Here’s a list of the Top Ten Most Wanted Government Documents from the report.

  1. Public Access to All Congressional Research Service Reports
  2. Information About the Use of TARP and Bailout Funds
  3. Open and Accessible Federal Court Documents Through the PACER System
  4. Current Contractor Projects
  5. Court Settlements Involving Federal Agencies
  6. Access to Comprehensive Information About Legislation and Congressional
    Actions via THOMAS or Public Access to Legislative Information Service
  7. Online Access to Electronic Campaign Disclosures
  8. Daily Schedules of the President and Cabinet Officials
  9. Personal Financial Disclosures from Policymakers Across Government
  10. State Medicaid Plans and Waivers

Governing with Accountability

Governing with Accountability, the report just issued by Growth & Justice, strikes a blow for accountability at the state government level. The report uses six principles to describe “a better way to define our expectations in these important areas and the need to hold leaders, managers and organizations accountable for delivering services and other valued public policy outcomes.” Find the full report online or contact Growth & Justice

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Report: Dim Sunshine Laws in Five Midwest States

wanted to let you know about the report on open government laws that the Citizen Advocacy Center, a policy research partner of the Midwest Democracy Network, launched today in celebration of Sunshine Week. I thought you might find it of interest this week!

Relevant links:

PRNewswire Release:

Contact: Terry Pastika, Citizen Advocacy Center, 630-833-4080
Charlie Boesel, Joyce Foundation, 312-795-3816
Emily Blum, Valerie Denney Communications, 312-408-2580 ext. 13

New study finds five Midwestern states have dim sunshine laws
CHICAGO, March 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While every state in the nation has laws that require public access to government records and meetings, in five Midwestern states that were recently analyzed, documents are often kept secret and doors can remain tightly closed.
According to a study released Wednesday by the Citizen Advocacy Center (Center) in celebration of Sunshine Week (March 15-21), open government laws in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have systemic barriers that chill public participation and access to government, which weakens our democratic system designed to be by, for and of the people.
The Center analyzed each state's Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts and found striking similarities between all states, including:
  • Open government laws are sporadically enforced, which means public bodies are more likely to be unresponsive to records requests and employ exemptions to keep meetings closed.
  • No state surveyed has a government office with statutory authority specifically created to oversee and enforce sunshine laws.
  • State employees are not adequately trained to carry out open government policies and may be unintentionally violating the laws.
  • Citizens may be able to attend meetings, but there are very few opportunities to participate.

"For our democracy to thrive and grow, we must have open government laws that are both strong and effective," said Terry Pastika, Executive Director and Community Lawyer for the Citizen Advocacy Center. "Without forceful sunshine laws, the public can not fully participate in the democratic process, knowledgably discuss issues of public concern, make informed judgments about the actions of elected officials, or monitor government to make sure it's acting in their interest."

For the study, the Center reviewed each state's laws as well as more than 1,000 legal cases, attorney general opinions, and professional publications to produce a comprehensive report on each state's strengths and weaknesses. The Center also provided specific reform recommendations that good government advocates can use to advance changes within each state. Reforms range from changing how fees should be levied to implementing training programs for public officials.

The study, conducted by the Center and funded by The Joyce Foundation, is distributed by the Midwest Democracy Network, an alliance of political reform advocates who are working to strengthen democracy and build the capacity of the public to participate and affect government decision-making.

To view the full report online, visit or

FOI Update from MPR

Citizen lobbyist, Rich Neumeister , is awarded the 2009 John R. Finnegan award for open government. He is also interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio with Minneapolis Attorney and First Amendment specialist, Mark Anfinson.

You can listen to or read the program on the MRP web site.