DC Bill to Subject Public Charter-School Documents to FOIA Coming, Councilman Allen Tells Sunshine Week Event
A week from today, look for District of Columbia Council member Charles Allen to introduce a state Freedom of Information Act-type bill to subject public charter school documents and meetings to such transparency laws. In a Q&A on transparency during Sunshine Week tonight at the American Bar Association, Allen said it’s high time to put on a “level playing field” all records that pertain to publicly funded schools. That’s even if they are charters, which operate separately from the D.C. Public School system.
“If public money is spent on education, it’s FOIAable,” Allen, a Democrat representing Ward 6, told the event sponsored by the D.C. Open Government Coalition (DCOGC). “It’s your tax dollars.” Open-meeting rules also would apply, said Allen. (I live in this ward, along with many in the audience.)
“This isn’t rocket science,” the councilman said. “I believe it’s about 39 other states” that have similar mandates. “We’re actually the outlier” in D.C., he added.
California just OK’d a similar law, he noted. “We’re not doing something radical.” In Los Angeles, a public-school teacher strike settlement included a provision that led the council there to seek to limit the number of charter schools.
On giving the public access to police body-worn camera video, such as through the District’s open-records law, Allen and moderator Kevin Goldberg said there may be more work needed. Such BWC footage often isn’t subject to FOIA and so never becomes public. A past event of the Society of Professional Journalists D.C. Pro Chapter, where I am president, focused on this issue. SPJ DC members were also invited to tonight’s event.
Allen said it’s a good time to review progress of the initiative, which saw the Metropolitan Police Department add cameras for officers. To “start revisiting this” makes sense, several years after MPD rolled out the program, he added.
The mayor’s annual budget several years ago included $5 million for the BWC plan, tonight’s event heard. Although advocates like Goldberg’s DCOGC group were successful in getting agreement to release some such footage, it’s not full transparency, he said.
“I still don’t feel we are getting a lot of access” to such video, said Goldberg, a copyright and media lawyer in his day job. He cited a stop and frisk incident in Ward 6, where video hasn’t been released.
Releasing such videos is a “defining transparency issue,” Goldberg contended.
Allen and Goldberg also gave a nod to audience member Traci Hughes, the first head of the D.C. Office of Open Government. Her term wasn’t renewed, in a move some say as political payback for taking a tough stance on forcing city meetings and documents to be made public. The mayor denied that allegation.
“I certainly thought Traci represented the office very well,” Allen said. He wants structural changes to the board so that it can’t be perceived to “just do the bidding of (any) mayor.”
“She was done wrong,” Goldberg said of Hughes, who has since rejoined his group’s board as vice president. “She did her job too well and was punished as a result. She did not have any cover whatsoever.”
“Don’t give up” on transparency, Hughes said from the audience.
“Openness and transparency is of the utmost of importance” in “today’s political climate,” said Niquelle Allen, current head of the D.C. Office of Open Government. “Asking for information, demanding transparency, these are things we must continue to do as a public, as a media.” In her first six months as director, she said she’s trying to let stakeholders know that it’s there to assist them. “I’ve found it to be chalenge in some respects,” but she’s encouraged she’s hearing from those who want government to be transparent.
“Good luck to you,” responded DC OGC President Tom Susman. “You obviously have a hill to climb.”