Sunshine Report: December 2016







The Sunshine Report: Online
Transparency News from the
Virginia Coalition
for Open Government
December 2016

MONDAY is the last day to register
for ACCESS16, VCOG's annual conference

port-james-madisonThere's still time to register to attend VCOG's annual conference, but not much. Ticket sales close on Monday afternoon, so don't wait!

Buy tickets here: $35 for members; $45 for non-members; $25 for students.

We've got a fantastic lineup of panels and panelists. We'll talk legislative privilege, proactive disclosure of government information, the confidentiality of business information in the hands of the government, social media and also information access in the time of James Madison. Read up on our panelists by clicking here.

We'll also honor our 2016 open government award winners.

  • CITIZEN: Prof. Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech
  • MEDIA: Katy Evans & Sarah Kleiner of the Richmond Times-Dispatch
  • GOVERNMENT: Arlington County

Go to VCOG’s website to read about what these winners did to merit their awards.

We rely on the support of many donors and contributers who help defray the cost of putting our conference on each year. Check out this year's conference donors on our website. 

For more details on the panels and panelists, to register or to make a contribution, go to our Eventbrite ACCESS 2016, VCOG's Annual Conference page.


Hope to see you there!


FOIA & records management webinar

VCOG will present the second in a series of four webinars in partnership with Tidewater Community College on Jan. 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 12 noon.

The free webinar, geared towards government employees but open to all, will include training on both FOIA and records management. Glenn Smith, from the Library of Virginia, will conduct the records management training, while Megan Rhyne will take on the FOIA portion.

Click here for additional details and to register.

VCOG’s first webinar with TCC attracted more than 200 registrants, and plans are underway to offer training focused on law enforcement records in 2017.

AG opinion

The Attorney General released on opinion Nov. 3 addressing the July 1 law that requires electoral boards to post their meeting minutes on their local government websites. Prompted by a question from the secretary of the Albemarle County Electoral Board, the AG confirmed that the requirement applied not only to minutes approved as final by the board, but also to draft minutes or “whatever kinds of minutes they keep.”
Read the opinion on VCOG’s website.
FOIA Council's revision has been (mostly) approved

At its Nov. 21 meeting, the FOIA Council gave its thumbs up to the bulk of the changes that have come out of the council’s three-year study. 

Among the highlights: (a) combining the personnel records exemption and salary exemption-exemption into one section; (b) tweaking the working papers definition to tie correspondence to the deliberative process; (c) separating the legal advice meetings exemption into one section for litigation and one for specific legal issues; (d) clarification and modernization of the rules on posting meeting notice and agendas; (e) clarification that an exemption mentioning “personal information” is not a general exemption for privacy; and (e) the elimination of a couple of duplicative exemptions and the one for Virginia Wildlife magazine subscribers.

The council will meet again this coming Monday to vote on a handful of additional changes proposed at the Nov. 21 meeting.

Click here to read the suggested drafts for the records section

Click here fo or the proposed changes to the meetings section

And check out this chart that tracks the history of the various changes

Open government in the news

The City of Winchester began live-streaming its city council meetings on its website on Nov. 8. Regular meetings have been televised for years, while work sessions were televised for only a year before being halted in 2013; council began airing the work sessions again in September of this year.

The City of Chesapeake will now offer closed captioning services on all broadcasts of city council, planning commission and school board meetings. The change is "an effort to reach additional residents and address the concerns of unique audiences," according to a city news release.

After more than 60 years of holding its first organizational meeting of the year on New Year's Day, Arlington County will now move the meeting to a non-holiday day, starting Jan. 3, 2017. The change to the longstanding civic tradition angered many city activists, but board member Libby Garvey said times change. “We used to have telephones attached to the wall with long cords, too,” she said.

The reading room hours at the Library of Virginia were the first casualties of the governor’s budget cuts, which called for 18 library job cuts. The reading room’s hours could not be maintained with the reduced staffing and will now close on Saturdays and Mondays. Sandra Treadway, the Librarian of Virginia, also anticipates cuts to training of state and local records management officers.

Angry with the Franklin City Public Schools Board over funding, the Franklin City Council took the unusual step of demanding the resignation of all school board members. By Nov. 9, all board members had submitted their resignation letters, which the council accepted. The city said it hoped to have at least a majority of new members appointed to the board by Dec. 15.

The Virginia Beach panel tasked with looking into complaints made by residents against police officers took up a case for the first time in two years in early November after a mayoral candidate complained about his interaction with an officer. Richard Kowalewitch claimed an officer inappropriately grabbed his arm and wrist to try to stop him from heading to the podium to speak out against light rail during a packed City Council meeting on April 5.

A prison inmate’s suit against the Department of Corrections over injuries the man suffered in a jailhouse fight was settled in early November. A term of the settlement requires clarifying the DOC’s policy for saving and jail video monitor recordings. Prison officials said copies of the recordings were inadvertently erased from a computer or otherwise lost over the years. The inmate claimed the missing records would have backed up his complaint.

For the first time in more than three years, the Honor Committee at the University of Virginia held a public hearing in a case against a student accused of cheating on a test. Due to limited space, the committee asked those wanting to attend the hearing to sign up in advance.

A federal judge agreed with a Charlottesville man that the city’s rule against “group defamation” was unconstitutional. Joseph Draego claimed his First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when the council voted to cut off his comments during the public comment period. Draego had expressed concern at a June 20 meeting that an influx of Muslim immigrants to Charlottesville posed a public safety risk, saying that while many Muslims were good people, their holy text instructed them to “kill the sodomites and those who allow themselves to be sodomized.” He went on to call Muslims “monstrous maniacs” who perpetrate “horrible crimes.”

Daily Press review of more than 200,000 items from a decade's worth of legislators' campaign reports found $2.9 million spent on nonelection-year office rent, phones, internet, office equipment and supplies. That's on top of the roughly $9 million of taxpayer funds they received for those purposes in those non-election years.

The ACLU of Virginia penned a letter in late November criticizing the meeting practices of the Petersburg City Council. “Holding meetings at inconvenient times and in small spaces that cannot accommodate the public violates the spirit of open government laws that serve to promote an increased awareness by all persons of government activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government,” ACLU director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga wrote.

The state Department of Education launched a website of school data: The site includes data about assessments, enrollment, finance, teacher quality and more are easily available, displayed in pie and bar charts. Some of the data is displayed over the past three school years, while other data compares statistics, like Standards of Learning performance, to all Virginia students.

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