Tag Archives: Minnesota Coalition on Government Information

Freedom of Info Day 2017 captured on video by The Uptake

Under the circumstances, it seems as if we may need a Sunshine or Freedom of Information or Right to Know Month.  And yet we need to start by catching up on Minnesota’s FOI Day event.  Fortunately, The UpTake (recipient of the 2017 Career Freedom of Information Award,  http://theuptake.org/2016/03/16/live-at-noon-the-uptake-honored-with-career-freedom-of-information-award/)  has captured the day on video.

Locally Freedom of Information Day 2017 was sponsored on Thursday, March 16, by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information.  Each year the Coalition honors an individual, agency or nonprofit with the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award.  This year the Award went to Tony Webster, avid user of FOIA and government information.

Keynote speaker was Patrice McDermott, long-time Executive Director of  OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC based coalition of advocacy organizations that support the principles of transparency and accountability, primarily though not solely, at the federal level.

McDermott’s thoughts on the current challenges to the principles articulate in the First Amendment deserve view, discussion and ways that citizens and advocacy group must tackle the challenges we face today

Thanks to The Uptake, the event is captured here on video: http://theuptake.org/2017/03/16/tony-webster-honored-for-freedom-of-information-work/

More on FOI day and Sunshine Week here:  https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/freedom-of-information-day-2017-an-unprecedented-challenge/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of Information Day 2017 – An unprecedented challenge

It strikes me that it is more than appropriate that Sunshine Week, March 12-18, 2017, begins on the first day of Daylight Savings Time!  Maybe an extra hour of sunshine will actually help!  One can hope.

I have written so often about open government, transparency, the right to know, the First Amendment and the free press that I mention just one recent blog post that perhaps best expresses my deep concerns about the crisis in which we find ourselves. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/information-and-media-not-weapons-but-tools/  

As citizens of a threatened democracy we need to think more than ever about our rights, the role of the press, and our need to discern truth in an incredible barrage of data, misinformation, fake facts, propaganda and, happily, thoughtful exposition of ideas, issues and facts.  We can’t give up.  

Nationally, the week is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.  The SW website offers an excellent introduction to the principles, the issues, a valuable Tookkit for local activists including a calendar of what’s happening around the nation. It’s an essential starting point and inspiration to take action.  All is revealed through multiple channels, including #Sunshineweek@asne.org, and on Facebook.

For many years the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) has commemorated Sunshine Week by sponsoring a Freedom of Information Day event. The history of FOIA Day (March 16) respects the birthday of James Madison, author of the First Amendment.  And so each year MNCOGI hosts a Freedom of Information Day public event.  This year’s event is set for Thursday, March 16, Noon at the Minneapolis Central Library.

Keynote speaker at FOI recognition is Patrice McDermott, founder and long-time director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a DC-based coalition of organizations that endorse government accountability and access.  Her talk is entitled “Secrecy and Accountability – Looking Forward, Looking Back.”  Member of the National Freedom Act Hall of Fame Dr. McDermott is a national authority on the principles and challenges to the right of the people to access to information by and about the government.  

At the same gathering the Coalition will honor Tony Webster, recipient of this year’s John R Finnegan FOI Award.  Webster  is a self-proclaimed “web engineer, public records researcher, and policy nerd”. (@webster)  MNCOGI chair Gary Hill observes that “Tony Webster is a shining example of the power of a single individual to make government more transparent and hold it more accountable.”   

Sponsored each year by the Coalition, the Finnegan Award honors Minnesota newspaperman John R. Finnegan, installed in 2011 as a member of the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame (http://www.nfoic.org/2011-open-government-hall-fame)

(https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2012/10/eulogies-john-finnegan-sr)

The FOI Day event is free and open to the public.

Related updates:

A powerful statement of press freedom endorsed by a broad coalition of agencies:  http://ncac.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Press-Freedom-Statement-FINAL.pdf

Recipient of the James Madison Award, sponsored by the American Library Association Washington Office, is Jon Tester (D-MT).  The award will be presented at one of the main events of Sunshine Week, a gathering at the Newseum in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, March 15 – streamed live from the Knight TV Studio in the Newseum.  http://www.newseum.org/live/)

How Open Government Happens

Terms such as “transparency” and “open government” fall trippingly from the tongues of elected officials and bureaucrats.   Still, the intricacies of assuring open government present a mighty challenge to persistent advocates.  Today’s headlines describing the inappropriate handling of public records exacerbate the situation.

On the one hand, drastic cutbacks among the ranks of investigative journalists leave a media void when it comes to consistent and informed coverage of  access issues.  At the same time, the complexities of setting policies and procedures appropriate to ensure transparency in the information age is a daunting task for lawmakers and their staffs, not to mention the local officials obligated to implement the laws.

The Minnesota Coalition on Government Information (MNCOGI) tries to keep tabs on the maze of open government issues that creep quietly onto the legislative agenda while more sexy issues capture the attention of the media and the public.

MNCOGI is sponsoring a public meeting on Monday, January 28, to cast a light on pending transparency issues and on those still percolating on the back burner of an interest group.  The meeting is 2:00-3:30 in Meeting Room 118 at the Minnesota State Capitol.  Free and open to the public.

Topics on the agenda range from License Plate Recognition Data to citizen e-mails submitted to municipalities to the definition of “public official” and enforcement of the present Data Practices Act.

The principles and state legislative issues that MNCOGI is currently monitoring are spelled out on the website of the nonprofit advocacy organization.

John R. Finnegan – Visionary, Leader, Indomitable Advocate for the Right to Know

Nearly 25 years ago the fledgling Minnesota Coalition on Government Information adopted the mission to advocate for systemic change in policies and practices that support open government at the state and local levels.  The first action of the Coalition was to sponsor an annual event and award to promote awareness of the public’s right to know information by and about their government.

 

Echoing initiatives at the federal level the Minnesota Coalition members decided to celebrate Freedom of Information Day on March 16, a date chosen to honor the  life and work of James Madison, key framer of the Constitution and the First Amendment.

 

A corollary decision by the Coalition was to annually honor a Minnesota individual or organization that had taken a lead in support of open government.  When the question came to naming the state’s Freedom of Information Award the decision was both unanimous and from the heart.

 

John R. Finnegan, crusader for open government, was our hero – more than a symbol, intrepid toiler in the thorny bramble of bureaucratic and legislative resistance.  It was John who stood out to Coalition members who recognized John’s vision, leadership and unstinting efforts to tackle the devil in the details of crafting – and adopting — laws and policies ensure the public right to information by and about their government.

 

John’s proactive defense of open government flowed from his experience as a leader in journalism at the local and national levels where he stood, alone at times, as a defender of the First Amendment and the right to know.  His gaze never wavered from the legislative and bureaucratic predilection to ignore or evade the Minnesota’s laws and policies relating to open meeting, data practices and the need for constant oversight.

 

At the national level, John’s voice rose about the din.  In 2011 when he was inducted into the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame John delivered a brilliant defense of freedom of information that moved an audience to their feet.  His words delivered on that day will be remembered.

 

Though it is acknowledged that John had a “trunkful of awards,” the John R. Finnegan Freedom of Information Award is unique.  This award is not for but about its namesake.  Each year on Freedom of Information Day the award will honor the life and inestimable contributions of John R. Finnegan, a man I have long described as Minnesota’s Patron Saint of open government.  John’s was a good life well lived defending the rights of the governed in an informed democracy.