Maine group uses DVD to advance open government

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By Mal Leary, president, Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, Augusta, Maine

The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is celebrating a decade of promoting and protecting the public’s right to know with a DVD dramatizing some common requests under the state law.

The series of skits collectively titled “Accessing Government Information in Maine” is a limited tutorial to help guide the public through Maine’s open records and open meetings laws and provide links for more detailed information.

The DVD was produced through a grant from the National Freedom of Information Coalition and narrated by former Gov. Angus King. It has been distributed to every public library in the state, including high school libraries.

Through a series of skits, sometimes humorous, that are based on real-life situations an individual gets a good idea of how the law works. The DVD explains how the law applies to public records and meetings in town offices and at schools and police departments, as well as state agencies.

The skits also include suggestions about how to handle situations when someone believes they have been denied access to a public record or meeting in violation of the law. The DVD points out some common situations where records are confidential by law and why they are confidential.

The skits are available through the MFOIC website and have been edited into a half-hour TV program being aired on cable channels throughout the state. The site also has a frequently asked questions section and tips on writing a request for public records and links to other Freedom of Access Act resources.

The site lists candidates for the legislature that took a pledge in the 2008 elections to support open government and has the full reports of the public records audits that MFOIC has undertaken to show both the strengths and weaknesses in the state law.

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