Help make D.C. more transparent in 2018

Dear Friend of Open Government:

  As the New Year approaches, the D.C. Open Government Coalition (DCOGC) would like to thank you for your support and commitment to enhancing the public’s access to government information and ensuring the transparency of the District of Columbia government. This past year, once again, has been a very exciting and productive time for us.

  Since we organized in 2009, DCOGC has consistently made a difference by influencing D.C. government law, policy and procedures. And 2017 was no different. We worked closely with the D.C. Office of Open Government on a number of matters, and advocated strongly (and successfully) in the D.C. budget process for that Office to have independence and a separate budget. This will greatly assist the Office in its role as the crucial watchdog over government agencies’ compliance with open meetings and open records law. Within the D.C. community, we have become the go-to guys to assist reporters, community groups and others by answering their questions and providing guidance on navigating the D.C. freedom of information process.

  Here are a few other highlights of how DCOGC continued to make a difference:

  • At the beginning of the year, in President Obama’s final days in office, we joined with other advocates to celebrate the signing of legislation opening financial disclosure statements of local judges, a tool that helps the public assess possible conflicts of interest. Previously, the finances of local judges were kept confidential. The change required Congressional approval and DCOGC long advocated for this change and appreciated the leadership of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton in making it happen.
  • We worked with a reporter and obtained public access to full (uncensored) police video shown in court — and the D.C. attorney general apologized on live TV for his mistaken direction to withhold the video from the reporter. Coalition legal research, threat of litigation and a persuasive staff briefing proved critical in showing that First Amendment principles on court access override the rules on privacy redactions of police body camera videos released under FOIA.
  • We succeeded in two Coalition complaints to the Office of Open Government about mistakes in D.C. agency public records denials -- one reversing redactions that shielded high officials described in a high-profile Inspector General report on how former schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson awarded preferential school admissions for their children. The other reversed improper refusals to search for D.C. officials’ emails unless requesters provided specific names and email addresses.
  • In the spring, the American Bar Association’s Communications Lawyer published an article based on the Coalition’s comprehensive review of how D.C. and the 50 states approach the emerging question of access to public officials’ text messages (and, increasingly, communications on new digital platforms like Slack), work that was conducted for DCOGC by pro bono counsel at Ropes & Gray law firm. In addition, the Coalition presented these findings at the National Freedom of Information Coalition Conference in Nashville in October and the report is available on our web site,
  • And, of course, we continued our tradition of celebrating national Sunshine Week in March by hosting a D.C. Open Government Summit. Our sixth annual Summit at the National Press Club was our most successful and showcased our research on DC police body-worn cameras and how they have not required disruptive and costly workloads in the police records office as the Mayor and others had warned.

  In mid-December, we offered testimony advocating a common-sense approach to the very difficult issues related to the expungement of criminal convictions and arrests and the sealing of court and police records. We pledge to continue to work on this issue in 2018 and help D.C. residents who encounter the DC criminal justice system move on with their lives without fear that public or private entities will deny them jobs, housing, credit or other necessities, and at same time protect the right of journalists and the public to know.

  This work takes time and money. The D.C. Open Government Coalition takes no dues — we rely solely on the generosity of people like you. Any amount you contribute would go directly to strengthening what we do. Please consider supporting us by making a year-end, tax-deductible donation at or via check to DCOGC, P.O. Box 73771 Washington, DC 20056. 

  On behalf of the Coalition, thank you for your support. Together, we can continue bringing more transparency, accountability and citizen engagement to the District of Columbia government. Wishing you a happy holiday season and enjoyable New Year!

With best regards,
Cori Zarek
President, D.C. Open Government Coalition