Pa. Office of Open Records to hold free Right to Know workshop

The state’s Office of Open Records, will hold a free workshop on Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law and the Sunshine Act on Oct. 23 from 10 a.m. to noon, state Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County, said in a news release.

Admission is free but seating is limited, according to the release. Advanced registration by Friday is preferred. To download a registration form, visit the Office of Open Records website.

For more information about the workshop, call 717-346-9903.

Posted in Pennsylvania Right to Know | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Legislators in at least 23 states are trying to do something about dark money (Washington Post)

Among the states: New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.

Not among the states: Pennsylvania.

This open government update was brought to you by Record Tracker via Evernote.

For more open records resources, visit:

YDR Datacenter

My open records resources folder in Evernote.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Angel Food Ministries founder gets 7-year prison sentence

Angel Food Ministries founder Joe Wingo, his wife Linda and their son Andy were sentenced as a result of their guilty pleas in a federal fraud case involving the former nonprofit.

Joe Wingo received a 7-year prison sentence Thursday, the Athens Banner-Herald Reported. Wingo’s wife, Linda received five years’ probation. Andy Wingo, the couple’s son, received a 7-year-sentence.

Read more about the sentencing at the Banner-Herald’s website.

 Reported previously:

Joe and Linda Wingo, the husband-and-wife founders of the food nonprofit Angel Food Ministries, and their son Andy have pleaded guilty to federal charges, according to court records (scroll down for documents).

In December 2011, a Georgia grand jury indicted the three (and an employee of AFM) on fraud and other charges related to their operation of AFM. The nonprofit bought food, packaged it in boxes and sold it at a discount through distribution sites — including several in York County at one point — thus helping families stretch their budgets in tough economic times.

But a York Daily Record/Sunday News investigation, reported by Melissa Nann Burke and published in January 2009, revealed that the founding family was drawing millions in salary and making loans to themselves via Angel Food Ministries.

On Feb. 11, agents from the FBI and from IRS’ criminal services division searched AFM’s Monroe, Ga. headquarters. The next day, Joe and Linda Wingo met in York with representatives of local AFM distribution sites to answer questions about the nonprofit’s finances.

AFM went out of business in the fall of 2011.

Court records indicate that this week:

  • Joe Wingo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces a possible maximum sentence that would include 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
  • Linda Wingo pleaded guilty to concealment of a felony. She faces a maximum sentence that would include three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
  • Andy Wingo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces a possible maximum sentence that would include 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
  • Former AFM employee Harry Michaels pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He faces a maximum penalty that would include five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

One thing the AFM case does is put the focus on whether charities and nonprofits are doing the things they say they’re going to do when you give them money. Here are some resources for researching charities.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pa. Supreme Court gives state courts a broader role in deciding open records cases

 

From Mark Scolforo of The Associated Press:

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has endorsed wide authority for state courts to determine whether government records should be released publicly, a decision the chief justice warned would make requests more costly and add delays.

The court ruled 4-2 Tuesday in the matter of a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter who had sought information about federal grant money spent by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

The case involves the role of the Office of Open Records, an agency created when the Right-to-Know Law was overhauled five years ago. The majority said appeals of the office’s decisions that are taken to Commonwealth Court would not be confined to the existing record but can be supplemented.

“Now they can still count on that, or they can say no, thanks, we’re going to start this process over and have the parties give us everything,” said Office of Open Records director Terry Mutchler, whose agency was a party to the case. “The question in plain-speak terms is, ‘Is the Office of Open Records a warm-up or is it a real game?’”

Mutchler’s office has handled 7,000 cases, and about 500 have ended up in court.

The majority opinion by Justice Seamus McCaffery said there were several reasons to give Commonwealth Court — and county common pleas judges, where they are involved — the ability to gather more information. To do otherwise would give too much authority to appeals officers who aren’t necessarily required to hold hearings, take evidence or issue written decisions.

Chief Justice Ronald Castille, in a dissent, said he couldn’t recall another law that produced “so much litigation involving seemingly overlooked foundational matters,” and chided the Legislature for not putting more thought into the appeals process.

Castille said lawmakers should revise and refine the Right-to-Know Law, a process that has already begun. If that does not happen, he said, and the Office of Open Records does not adopt a review process that protects legal rights, he might favor simply reversing all of the decisions that come to the court from the office.

Read more, and see the court’s decision (embedded):

Continue reading “Pa. Supreme Court gives state courts a broader role in deciding open records cases” »

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can Electronic Records Save Money, Increase Efficiency, and Benefit Everyone? – Sunlight Foundation Blog

An open government update brought to you by Record Tracker via Evernote.

The idea that government agencies should put all records online — eliminating the need for storing paper records and theoretically making it easier for citizens to see the records — seems like a no-brainer. But this Sunlight Foundation post does a good job of acknowledging and delving into the main reason — money — that could make going online tough for an agency to do.

What do you think?

For more open records resources, visit:

YDR Datacenter

My open records resources folder in Evernote.

Posted in Online records | Leave a comment

Read Ummad Rushdi’s arrest affidavit, search warrants in the baby kidnapping case

Ummad Rushdi, 30, of Windsor Township, York County is charged with kidnapping and related charges in connection with the disappearance of 7-month-old Hamza Ali.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Feds declassify documents about telephone metadata collection; newspaper reports on new NSA tool to gather info on your internet use

The U.S. director of national intelligence declassified and released three documents that explain more about the federal government’s collection of phone call and other data in its effort to find and stop terrorist plots.

Two of them are letters to members of Congress at times when the law allowing the “bulk data” was up for reauthorization. The letters are the director’s case as to why the programs are vital to national security. The third is a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as to how the NSA and FBI are to handle the data collected.

The cover letters include some interesting things, such as:

  • Under a header “Key points,” the 2011 letter notes that the programs can gather info on calls and emails “but not the content of” them — and it underlines the phrase.
  • The NSA intercepted calls from a 9/11 hijacker to an al-Qaeda related facility in Yemen but, because they couldn’t determine where he was calling from, they assumed he was overseas. In fact he was in San Diego.
  • The authorities can’t get the type of information collected under these programs in any other way.
  • The programs cover a “critical seam in our defense against terrorism.” And “extensive policies, safeguards and reviews” have been enacted because the potential impact on privacy.

“Technical compliance issues” and “human implementation errors” are admitted in the letters, but they don’t indicate what the result of those mistakes were — one might ask, were private conversations collected, viewed and/or stored somewhere? — and that section is heavily redacted in 2011 letter.

And there’s this breaking news today from the Guardian: “NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet’” From the story:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

So the struggle for to seize the narrative of this ongoing story continues: The director of national intelligence tells us what he told Congress in explaining why the programs are good and must continue, while reports continue to come out about just how much power intelligence agencies have developed to peer into our lives.

Some reaction on Twitter to the Guardian’s latest story:

Posted in Transparency | Leave a comment

NSA to citizens asking for own records: Nope, we can’t tell you that

Posted in Transparency | Leave a comment

Three bright ideas, and one bad call, on open records

Three bright ideas

1. With Kickstarter Funding, FOIA Machine Wants to Help Fix Public Records

FOIA Machine, a platform that aims to streamline the process of tracking of filing and tracking public record requests, has raised more than $29,000 on Kickstarter — exceeding its funding goal.
Open this article

2. Post documents online

3. NYC releases code it used for spending transparency website, so other agencies can use it

 NYC comptroller John C. Liu blogs on Gotham Gazette/The Huffington Post about the online government budget site CheckbookNYC.com. They just released the source code for the site for free to encourage other municipalities to use it for themselves. Would YOUR local government embrace this technology? Should we be asking them to?
Open this article

One bad call

NSA Rejecting Every FOIA Request Made by U.S. Citizens -

July 9, 2013 · Google+ · So much for the “Freedom of Information Act”!#transparencyhttp://intellihub.com/2013/07/07/nsa-rejecting-every-foia-request-made-by-u-s-citizens/The letter, which first acknowledges the media coverage surrounding its surveillance systems, quickly moves to justify why none of that data can be obtained by an American citizen in a standard FOIA request
Open this article

References:

  1. “NSA Rejecting Every FOIA Request Made by U.S. Citizens -” · Drew Bannister · July 9, 2013 · Google+
  2. “Is this the next big step in government transparency?NYC comptroller John C. Liu blogs on Gotham Gazette…” · Truth in Accounting · July 11, 2013 · Google+
  3. “@Granicus” · Granicus, Inc. · July 27, 2013 · Twitter
  4. “With Kickstarter Funding, FOIA Machine Wants to Help Fix Public Records” · Stephen Davenport · July 20, 2013 · HootSuite
Posted in FOIA, Online records, Transparency | Leave a comment

Addresses not private, but government emails are, and other recent court decisions on public records

Recent court decisions on open records issues, presented at yesterday’s board meeting of the Pennsylvania Society of News Editors, from a report by Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association:

  • The Commonwealth Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to privacy concerning someone’s home address, nor a right to privacy for a public employee’s middle name, township or county of residence. 
  • The Commonwealth Court decided that government employees’ email addresses and phone numbers are not public because they are “personal” information under the Right to Know Law. You can still get public employees’ emails; the ruling refers to requests for lists of information about public employees (see the cases here and here). And here is my completely serious, don’t-think-for-a-second-it’s-satire analysis of a court deciding that a public employee’s email is personal and thus exempt from disclosure.
  • The state Supreme Court ruled that an agency can’t withhold the identity and description of services on a legal invoice submitted to a public agency just by saying it’s attorney/client privilege. The agency has to prove under the RTK law why that info should be withheld. In the same case, Levy v. Senate, the court also ruled that after an agency has denied a request, and the request is appealed, the agency can add new reasons for denial during the appeal process. Previously, agencies could not introduce new reasons for denial.

Related: Court gives partial win to to Penn State alumnus who seeks Sandusky records.

Posted in Commonwealth Court, Right-to-Know Law | Leave a comment