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National Freedom of Information Day – Part 1: FOIA

By Donna Westfall – March 16, 2018 –

James Madison, Jr., was born on March 16, 1751, in Port Conway, Virginia. He was  instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the Bill of Rights. Individual rights and freedom of information were of high importance to Madison. He became our fourth President of the United States.  A great deal of the credit for the 1st Amendment goes to Madison.

The man was close friends with Thomas Jefferson and came from a prosperous Virginia family.  Prosperous because they grew tobacco and had 3,000 acres and dozens of slaves. He was the youngest member of the Continental Congress and one of the shortest Presidents standing 5’4″ tall. He was against slavery, but his plan to end slavery was not practical.  Historianians are unsure if his marriage to Dolley Madison, from a Quaker family (almost 20 years his junior), influenced his opinions.

During the two years he served in the Virginia House Delegates,  he grew increasingly frustrated with what he saw as excessive democracy. He criticized the tendency for delegates to cater to the particular interests of their constituents, even if such interests were destructive to the state at large. He thought legislators should be “disinterested” and act in the interests of their state at large, even if this contradicted the wishes of constituents. Those sentiments are still in practice 200 years later as we see Supervisor  Roger Gitlin opposing recreational cannabis because he believes to his core that it’s bad for our town and our nation which contradicts the wishes of his constituents. Who’s to say that Madison or Gitlin are wrong?

Today, the 2018 Economic Summit is being held at the Elk Valley Rancheria between 8 am and 3 pm. $35 charge at the door, breakfast and lunch provided.

The keynote speaker is Senator Mike McGuire. In attendance is a slew of government types.  Their statistics, well, as far as I’m concerned, are questionable.  Usually someone like the Mayor of Crescent City will get up and talk about all the good they have done in the community and reference infrastructure like the wastewater treatment plant (WWTP).  Then someone like me will stand up and correct them about things like this city could never afford over $40 million for a loan to the state to upgrade and expand. The residents and ratepayers could only afford $20 million; so their champagne tastes and beer budget put the city and it’s people at financial risk. Except I’m not attending this year.

That brings me to the point of this article.  FOIA = Freedom of Information Act and how National Freedom of Information Day got started.

The creator of National Freedom of Information Day is Jim Bohannon, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host on Westwood One stations. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) didn’t become law until 1966 and then became effective in 1967. Westwood One is the largest radio network in the US. This year, Jim Bohannon celebrated 25 years of nightly program. He took over for Larry King in 1993. Jim Bohannon has long been the standard bearer for a great talk show host. Bart Tessler, Executive Vice President of Westwood One says of Bohannon, “intelligent, informed, passionate, and funny.”

First, look at the 2016 City of Crescent City Strategic Plan on their website:

VALUES
Accountability • Honesty & Integrity
Transparency
Excellent Customer Service
Effective & Active Communication
Community Partnerships
Fiscal Responsibility

Now let’s consider the US Department of Justice FOIA, “What records are subject to the FOIA?”

The factors:
Two-part test:
• Created or obtained by agency
• Under agency control when request received

Further:

Four factors:
• Creator’s intent to control
• Ability of the agency to use
• Extent to which personnel have read/relied
• Degree of integration into agency files Agency records

In Part 2 of our series on FOIA, we’ll delve into the ways that government prevents you, the public, from getting accurate or complete information or sometimes no information at all.  You’ll really start to wonder about their so called “transparency” when we recount problems starting first with our local city government, then law enforcement, then Health and Human Services, etc.

 

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