Politics 101: How to request public documents.

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There are statutes on the federal and state levels which allow citizens to gain access to public documents and records.

What are the information acts?

On the federal level, it is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which can be read here. The FOIA rules are spelled out very clearly at this link.

On the state level, the act in Maryland is called the Public Information Act (PIA), which can be read here.

The information acts have exemptions, in which certain documents are excluded from disclosure for security reasons. But overall, any agency document or record may be requested. The acts do not, however, require governmental agencies to conduct research or create records in order to comply with your request. They also do not require agencies to answer written questions that are not requests for documents or records, although they sometimes will at their discretion.

On the local level, jurisdictions may have adopted regulations which set procedures for compliance with the PIA. Baltimore County’s regulation for example can be read here. Prince George’s County compliance is not much different from Baltimore county.

See sample PIA request here.

How to submit a request

It is important to submit your written request, either by hard copy in the mail or emailed, to the head of the department in which the records are likely maintained, as well as to the individual specified by the department as responsible for information act requests.

Generally, government agencies have one month to comply with an information act request. If longer time is needed due to the nature of the request, the agency should send an acknowledgement of the request and indicate a timeframe for responding.

Also important to note is that the agency can charge the requestor for both the time invested in collecting the information and for any copies of the documents. In Maryland, only the first two man hours invested in compiling the documents requested are free of charge. So it is advisable to either keep your requests small, perhaps even submitting several small requests instead of one big one, or specify in the request that you only want them to invest two hours in pulling the documents.

Compliance issues

It is not unheard of for information act requests to go unanswered by an agency. And members of the media, as well as citizens, have been ignored. Non-compliance is subject to court action, but can be a time-consuming and costly matter. See article here by Bryan Sears. Some legislators in Maryland are looking at reforms to the PIA, and a national group is pushing for reforms on the federal level to the FOIA.

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Legal Disclaimer

Reform Sasscer Movement for Prince George’s County DOES NOT provide any legal advice and users of this web site should consult with their own lawyer for legal advice.

This web site (the “Site blog”) is a general service that provides legal information over the Internet. We are not a law firm and our employees are not acting as your attorney. The information contained in the Site blog is general legal information and should not be construed as legal advice to be applied to any specific factual situation. If you are unsure whether your particular situation requires that a document be changed or requested, you should consult a lawyer.

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica).

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Dubbed “sea parrots” as well as “clowns of the sea,” Atlantic puffins sport large, brightly-colored beaks on their substantially-sized heads. Crisp black and white markings on their plumage, as well as superior diving capabilities, have led people to compare the northern seabirds to penguins. However, Atlantic puffins are actually not related to penguins at all. They are in fact small seabirds (about 25 cm, or 10 in., long) that belong to the Alcidae (auk) family.

For most of the year, Atlantic puffins live on the open ocean, with a range spanning from the eastern coast of Canada and the northern United States to the western coast of Europe and northern Russia. 60% of the world’s puffins live near Iceland.

Puffins are specially adapted to living on the open sea. Waterproof feathers allow them stay warm as they float at the ocean’s surface or swim underwater. Diving as deep as 60 m (200 ft.), they swim by flapping their wings as if flying through the water and use their feet to steer. There, they hunt herring, hake, capelin, and sand eels. They supplement their meals by drinking saltwater.

Atlantic puffins are also excellent fliers. Flapping their wings at up to 400 beats per minute, puffins can reach speeds of 88 km/h (55mph).

April to mid-August is breeding season for puffins. When a puffin is around 3-5 years old, it will choose a partner at sea to mate with for life.

It is thought that the birds’ colorful bills and feet, which fade in the winter and brighten in the spring, help puffins assess potential mates.

Once on land, the pairs of puffins reunite within the colony. Some pairs exhibit a special behavior known as “billing” where the two birds rub their beaks together. This often draws an excited crowd of other puffins to watch.

Puffins create burrows, about 90 cm (3 ft.), in rocky cliffs either in the soil or between rocks. Often, couples will return to the same burrow year after year. At the back of the burrow, they build a nest lined with grasses, seaweed, and feathers. After the female lays a single egg, both parents take turn incubating the egg for about 40 days.

Once the chick hatches, the mother and father will take turns bringing it fish to eat several times a day. Atlantic puffins have the ability to carry several fish in their beaks at one time. They push the fish to the back of their mouth with their tongue, where ridges at the top of their bill secure the fish in place. This allows puffins to keep their mouth open to catch more fish without losing any in the process. In general, they can hold around 10 fish in their beak at once.

The chick stays in the burrow until it is able to fly. The young puffin uses a toilet area towards the front of the burrow away from the nest to stay clean. It cannot risk getting its feathers soiled and ruining the waterproof protection they provide. After 45 days, the chick leaves the burrow and spends 3-5 years at sea learning about feeding places and choosing a mate.

In the wild, puffins can live around 20 years. Their main predator is the great black-backed gull, which can capture a puffin mid-flight or swoop in on a puffin on the ground. Herring gulls are also a threat because they steal puffins’ fish (sometimes right from their mouths), and they pull puffin chicks or eggs from their nests.

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Conservation Status

With 6 million alive today, Atlantic puffins are not considered endangered by the IUCN Redlist. But some populations have been drastically reduced. Puffin colonies are threatened by overfishing, which causes a shortage of food for adults to feed their young. Oil spills also pose a danger. Oil not only destroys puffins’ waterproofing, it also makes them sick when they clean it off their feathers. Finally, global warming adversely affects puffins, who are adapted to living in waters about 0-20°C (32-68°F) and catching fish who are also adapted to those colder temperatures. Global warming also causes rising sea levels, which could flood out puffins’ breeding grounds.

What You Can Do to Help

If you would like to help puffins, you can help curb global warming by engaging in environmentally-responsible activities like using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, cutting down your carbon emissions, and recycling. You can also adopt a puffin from Audubon Society’s Project Puffin. Courtesy Animal fact. 

Atlantic Puffin Distribution

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For most of the year, Atlantic puffins live on the open ocean, with a range spanning from the eastern coast of Canada and the northern United States to the western coast of Europe and northern Russia. 60% of the world’s puffins live near Iceland. ***

Raaheela Ahmed, the teenager who nearly defeated Verjeana Jacobs,

…tapped for regents seat.

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Raaheela Ahmed, the teenager who nearly defeated Verjeana Jacobs, the then-chairman of the Prince George’s County Board of Education two years ago, has been selected by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to serve a one-year term as the student member on the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.

Ahmed, 21, attends the University of Maryland in College Park, majors in both Finance and Economics and plans to graduate in May.

“I’m happy to have this position,” Ahmed said. “I’m ready to hustle.”

Ahmed has not formally had her orientation but she has taken it upon herself to tour the system’s institutions and regional center. She has trekked from Frostburg State University to Salisbury University to Towson University. >>> Read more Washington Post

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Prince George’s County elite must put the County and the nation first.

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In the classic The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon famously said: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission (and) fulfil it or betray it.”

We spent the prime of our youth, some of us, in the struggle for constitutional and political reforms in Prince George’s County and in state of Maryland. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say we lost our youth in the struggle. The democratic experiment and practice has a long and tortuous history.

Creationists, specifically those who believe in the Bible can attest to the fact that initially, theocracy was the chosen way.

So that democracy, a variant of man-rule-man system was in itself an act of rebellion against God. But the train left the station many millennia ago.

Today, we can only find ways and means of making the best of whatever mess we call human rule.  Our American Founding Fathers did just that hundreds of years ago. After several months at the national convention from May 1787, the Constitution was ready for signing on September 17, 1787.

The next hurdle after the delegates had signed would be ratification. Yet I go ahead of myself.

Even before the final signatures, amendments were demanded and granted. These amendments were to address the fears that a strong national government would be a threat to personal liberties. These form part of American civil rights. They were reportedly all written by James Madison.

Now, for ratification, the final document needed the approval of nine out of the twelve states. Those opposed to the constitution, the Anti – Federalists began a press propaganda campaign against ratification. To counter them, Alexander Hamilton recruited fellow statesmen and intellectuals James Madison and John Jay. They wrote a series of more than 50 pro-ratification letters to the New York press of that time. The one that eventually rose to the pinnacle of glory is Federalist No. 10 by James Madison. It concerned itself with the threat of faction, racism or class differences.

Madison described faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or a majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interest of the community”.

So he agonised between removing or controlling causes and effects of faction. To remove faction, you had to do away with liberty. The folly of so doing would be akin to removing oxygen so as to put out a fire. The damage would be cumulatively greater. A second option in removing causes of faction would be to give everyone uniform choices and views. This too would be totally absurd.

So that in the end, he opined, one would have to limit the effects of faction. He prescribed a republican remedy. A republic, he averred, would dilute the undesirable effects of majoritarianism.

He came early. Long before someone coined the phrase “tyranny of numbers”. The phrase is these days parroted by pseudo-intellectuals without attribution.

These writers, the authors of the 87 articles later dubbed Federalist Papers, sought neither fortune nor fame. They loved their country. They were not participants in empty political rhetoric.

Our latter-day columnists must read this collection of ideological masterpiece and constitutional architecture.

In fact, it behooves the Committee of Experts even though long disbanded to let us in on the reasoning behind some sticky facts of the constitution.

Jurists and legal experts still quote the Federalist Papers hundreds of years. Our President Barrack Obama, in Audicity of Hope, was so moved as to say these documents betray and mirror natural law if not divine inspiration.

our guess is that, he should have just said these people were geniuses living at the height of the Enlightenment.

These days, columnists engage in what Madison termed as the vicious arts. Empty and laughable ad hominen if not crass, pitiable partisanship. Take a position. Indeed you must. But do it on principle.

This way, people will identify you with a particular shade of opinion or school. Don’t oscillate depending on where the money is. Madison and group are still points of reference because they thought long and hard. Whatever they wrote stood the test of time.

They mentioned no names. Never poured vitriol on fellow Americans. If small minds discuss people, average ones events and great minds discuss ideas, next time you pick your favourite newspaper, you will have an easy time classifying your favourite commentator.

Prince George’s County is at a worse crossroad than 1787 – 88 America. Democracy will be strengthened more by statesmen. Whether in civil society, media, political parties or even the now silent academy, we must love our counties, our states, our countries and our planet earth above all else. We must be patriots.

We must sacrifice short-term gain at the altar of posterity. This is our prayer as we move forward unto the future!

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Prince George’s charter school to eliminate recess to shorten day.

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A Prince George’s County charter school will end recess in an effort to shorten the school day.

College Park Academy, a middle school, will end 35 minutes earlier once the change goes into effect, the Washington Post reported.

The county’s Board of Education approved the change by a 12-0 vote Thursday, after teachers suggested the change.

The school had a longer school day than most middle schools. Teachers said students were extremely tired by the end of the day, said Frank Brewer, interim executive director of the academy.

Brewer said cutting recess was a way to shorten the day without affecting instructional time.

The school is currently in session from 8:25 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. After cutting recess, school will end at 3:20 p.m. >>>Read more NBC4 News  >> Washington Post

OPINION:

Some of the policies we are seeing under Dr. Segun Eubanks leadership and Dr. Maxwell via County Executive Baker are not good for the children of Prince George’s County. The list includes among other things; over crowded buses, Union interferences, overpayment of Board staff at Sasscer, recruitment of lawyers connected to friends working for the Board and the list is endless. This is not why we requested for proper changes at the Prince George’s County Public schools. These officers are making our school system worse.

We agree with the statement by Washington Post. Playtime can be as important as class time for helping students perform their best.

Recess is most children’s favorite period, and parents and teachers should encourage that trend, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). (Read more)  Recess can be a critical time for development and social interaction, and in a new policy statement published in the journal Pediatrics, pediatricians from the AAP support the importance of having a scheduled break in the school day. “Children need to have downtime between complex cognitive challenges,” says Dr. Robert Murray, a pediatrician and professor of human nutrition at the Ohio State University who is a co-author of the statement. “They tend to be less able to process information the longer they are held to a task. It’s not enough to just switch from math to English. You actually have to take a break.”

The AAP committee that developed the statement began its research in 2007, expecting to discover that recess is important as a physical outlet for children. What they found, however, was that playtime’s benefits extend beyond the physical. “We came to the realization that it really affects social, emotional and cognitive development in a much deeper way than we’d expected,” she says. “It helps children practice conflict resolution if we allow them unstructured play, and it lets them come back to class more ready to learn and less fidgety.” Read more  courtesy Health and Family Blog  >>>Obesity: Playing Three or More Sports Cuts the Rate of Overweight Teens

Continuous corruption and manipulation of the institutions for personal gains of a few individuals in the county, is not the answer!

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Prince George’s County school board chairman Segun Eubanks listens to parents and staff speak. He has been laughing all the way to the Bank recently…

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School Bus Driver Experiences Mass Overcrowding…

…in Prince George’s County School District.

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A bus driver with Prince George’s Co. Schools told News4 she experienced mass overcrowding aboard her bus as students returned to class this week, which created a possible safety risk for the dozens on board. News4’s Prince George’s County Bureau Tracee Wilkins has the story. See the video here >>> NBC News video.

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Prince George’s County school board chairman Segun Eubanks listens to parents and staff speak. He has been laughing all the way to the Bank recently…

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In the face of harmful aspect, silence cannot be golden.

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In 191 BC, Antiochus III, King of Syria invaded Greece, he was invited there by the Aetolians in order to drive out the Romans. Antiochus sent envoys to the Achaeans, who were allies of the Romans, to advise them to remain neutral. On the other hand, the Romans urged them to take up arms on their behalf. This matter was discussed at a meeting of the Achaeans at which the envoy of Antiochus exhorted them to remain neutral.

To this the Roman envoy replied: “As for what they tell you, that it is better for you not to intervene in the war, nothing could be further from your interests; lacking help and dignity, you would be the prize of the victor).

“In order to avoid present dangers, irresolute rulers usually prefer to remain neutral, and very often this is their undoing,” notes Niccolo Machiavelli in his political intrigue masterpiece, The Prince.

Machiavelli proceeds to add: “Let us assume that you strongly support one of the parties, who then emerges victorious; even if he is powerful and you are at his mercy, he is beholden to you and friendship is established between you. And men are never so dishonorable that they would attack you in such circumstances, and display so much ingratitude.

Moreover, victories are never so decisive that the victor does not need to be careful, and especially about acting justly. But if the ruler whom you help loses, he will show gratitude to you and will help you as far as he can; thus you become an ally in a cause that may flourish again.”

Machiavelli observes further that it is not always possible to follow safe politics. Rather, it should be realised that all courses of action involve risks: for it is in the nature of things that when one tries to avoid one danger another is always encountered. But prudence consists in knowing how to assess the dangers, and to choose the least bad course of action as being the right one to follow.

Robert Green, in his 48 Laws of Power, describes timidity as “dangerous”, and celebrates boldness by declaring that any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected by more audacity.

Green says most of us are timid. We want to avoid tension and conflict and we want to be liked by all. We may contemplate a bold action but we rarely bring it to life. We are terrified of the consequences, of what others might think of us, of the hostility we will stir up if we dare go beyond our usual place. Green adds that few are born bold.

Even Napoleon Bonaparte had to cultivate the habit on the battlefield, where he knew it was a matter of life and death. In social settings he was awkward and timid, but he overcame this and practiced boldness in every aspect of his life because he saw its tremendous power, how it could literally enlarge a man. You must practice and develop your boldness. You will often find uses for it.

“Boldness and hesitation elicit very different psychological responses in their targets. Hesitation puts objects in your path, boldness eliminates them. Once you understand this, you will find it essential to overcome natural timidity and practice the art of audacity, Green notes.

And Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658) advices: “Always set to work without misgivings on the score of impudence. Fear of failure in the mind of a performer is, for an onlooker, already evidence of failure…actions are dangerous when there is doubt as to their wisdom; it would be safer to do nothing.”

We are living in times when we cannot afford to play neutral or timid. Prince George’s County and Maryland as a State faces daunting challenges that demand a bold stand of every man and woman.

The serpent of corruption appears to be getting more and more invigorated, having quickly spread its tentacles beyond Prince George’s County to all 24 county governments where it appears to be establishing rather comfortable domicile.

There is every sign of a chronic paucity of leadership, with pretense, hypocrisy, double-speak, insincerity, myopia, mediocrity and greed pervading virtually all political space.

And the very soul of our constitutional order is under siege from all political angles as the prospect of reckless, selfish tinkering and mutilation looms ever so ominously.

Eighteenth Century British Statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke warned that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, while Martin Luther King observed that “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The time is always right to do what is right, and to remain silent when you must speak out makes you the King of cowards! Will you rise and walk on the right side of history for Prince George’s County,  for Maryland as a state and for the larger World?

Finally, remember we all have a responsibility as we have articulated before in our previous post. May we all live royally as eagles and soar in our faith for the glory of God in our end time generation and in the process, help fix the counties in our respective States and Countries. This is our prayer!

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Read more >>Why corruption in Prince George’s county is the county’s worst enemy.

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