I sat in on a Freedom of Information Act primer for members of boards and commission. It’s a very lengthy piece of legislation, but if you’re really curious, read it and weep. (Also, there is a citizens’ guide to the state’s FOIA law.) Here is my (very brief) summary of what you need to know:
- If you are paid with tax dollars and can’t serve citizens without transparency, you’re not serving citizens.
- Usually, just because a meeting can be closed to the public, it doesn’t have to be.
- You can disclose what was said in a closed meeting. If there is an objection, tell those who object to consider Portsmouth. When in doubt, contact the city or county or school board attorney.
- FOIA matters because, in part of public perception, trust and accountability.
- If you contact a public official in written form, what you sent becomes a part of the public record.
- You don’t have to be a journalist to use FOIA.