The Better Government Association (BGA) continued its Citizen Watchdog Training on December 6, 2010 at Christ the King High School. The objectives of this session were to: explain how to avoid common roadblocks in use of the Freedom of Information Act; present a code of ethics for reporting; and explain how to post reports and comments on the BCA website.
Freedom of Information Act
- Find the right place and person to file your request. Every public body must have a FOIA officer.
- Put your request in writing. You don’t need to use a “standard form”.
- You’re allowed to get the answer in the original format, ie excel spreadsheet, database, etc. Ask “ if available in electronic format, please provide to me in that way”. You can also ask to have it scanned and emailed.
- “Because these records are in the public interest, I ask that you waive any reproduction costs” Ask to have any costs eliminated.
- Track your request and follow up. Public bodies must comply with or deny the request within 5 business days.
If you have been denied a response, there are two options: Public Access Counselor in Attorney General’s office or file a lawsuit. Each has pros and cons.
Reporter’s Code of Ethics
As a watchdog, you may find yourself making reports on actions and findings. It is useful to understand relevant standards of performance. The Code of Ethics is as follows:
- Seek truth and report it
- Minimize harm
- Act independently
- Be accountable
Watchdog Wall Guidelines
BGA seeks to multiply its efforts by training others how to hold government officials accountable. They allow citizen watchdogs to make posts related to government that are 100 words or less. You can email a submission to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Given the shrinking number of newspapers and investigative reporters, there are fewer “eyes” trained on the conduct of those we have placed in office to serve the common good. We must sharpen our skills and focus to assist our pubic officials with the execution of their responsibilities.