Thursday, March 17, 2011

Freedom of Information Blog

Art of Access book coverIn The Art of Access blog two journalism professors post tips and commentary about getting access to public documents. David Cuillier (U. Arizona) and Charles Davis (U. Missouri) include a page of FOI Help: links to sample request letters, laws, allies, and more. For aspiring journalists, they link to sources of story ideas that would use public records.

The blog links to interesting articles that use public documents to report a story -- for instance, The Making of Manhattan's Elite Welfare Farmers, New York Press, June 15, 2010 (some farm subsidies might go to ma and pa on the farm, but millions of dollars go to corporations and rich individuals).

This week, Davis comments on one of his "pet peeves in FOI…the way university presidents get to interview for megabucks, taxpayer-funded jobs in secret, . . . all aided by these private search firms that states also pay huge amounts of money to, so they can tap their stable of secret candidates." Mass. AG to Review Selection of University President, March 14, 2011. Come to think of it, the University of Washington is looking for a new president right now, too. (The Board of Regents met today, by the way.)

Gloria HowellIn the blog I learned about a public records victory by a woman in our own state. As part of Sunshine Week, the American Society of News Editors honors a "local hero" -- an individual who fought to make state or local government more accessible. This year's first-place award goes to Gloria Howell of Stevenson, WA, "who used the courts to force the disclosure of public records that revealed corruption in her county auditor's office." Washington State Woman Wins Sunshine Week Contest, news release, March 14, 2011.
Howell, a former Stevenson school board member, got involved after her daughter, Angela Moser, was allegedly fired from the Skamania County auditor's office for theft and because of her concerns about irregularities in ballot processing and alleged misuse of public funds. Howell filed suit to obtain the records. The suit resulted in a criminal investigation by the Skamania County Sheriff's Office, a criminal referral to the Washington State Attorney General, an investigation and report by the Washington State Auditor, and the resignation of Skamania County Auditor Michael J. Garvison.
Gloria Howell's comments on her work are here. You can read clippings about the auditor controversy from the Skamania County Pioneer here (requires Adobe Flash).

The blog is a companion to Cuillier and Davis's book, The Art of Access: Strategies for Acquiring Public Records (2011).

Photo of Gloria Howell from the Sunshine Week press release.

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