Sunshine Report for June 2016






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

VCOG updates

VCOG board member Bob Gibson will be leaving his post as director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the end of the month. But don't worry, he's not going far. Bob is taking a psoition at UVA's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, focusing on engaging citizens and leaders in revitalizing and guiding the creation of leadership in a number of Virginia communities. Good luck, Bob!

Betsy Edwards has been named the new executive director of the Virginia Press Association. She will replace Ginger Stanley when Ginger retires on July 1. The VPA has an ex officio seat on VCOG's board of directors, meaning Ginger has served on VCOG's board for its entire 20-year history. Betsy will now join us for VCOG's next 20 years. Congratulations to Betsy, and a big thank you to Ginger.

In May, VCOG's Megan Rhyne completed her third course on FOIA for the Christopher Wren Association, the William & Mary lifelong learning program.


Happy Birthday, to us!

This year marks VCOG's 20th birthday, and we're celebrating! Keep you eyes peeled for details about our celebration dinner, Sept. 22, at the Boathouse at Rocketts Landing.

NFOIC comes to D.C.

The National FOI Coalition (NFOIC) will hold its next annual summit in Washington, D.C., Oct. 7-8, at the Dupont Circle Hotel. This year's conference is being hosted by the D.C. Open Government Coalition and will feature timely panels on federal and state access issues. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. Keep checking this page for programming and registration updates.

No redaction on local conflicts forms

Tim Oksman, the opinions counsel for the Office of Attorney General, wrote in a letter to Sen. Scott Surovell his opinion that locally filed financial interest forms (often called conflicts forms) cannot be redacted in response to a request for them under the Freedom of Information Act. Read the opinion on VCOG's website.

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Making Your FOIA Life Easier:
records management & FOIA

MYFLEcollageNearly 200 government employees, representing 88 local governments, school divisions, law enforcement departments and state agencies attended VCOG's records management and FOIA workshop, May 19, at the Library of Virginia.

Attendees traveled from as far away as Pulaski County, Norfolk, Fairfax County and Waynesboro to hear presentations by VCOG's board president Craig Fifer (communications director for the City of Alexandria), Glenn Smith, a records analyst with the Library of Virginia, and Maria Everett of the FOIA Council.

Attendees received a certificate of completion and many have expressed enthusiasm for receiving training as often as three times a year.

Congratulations to all who attended, for they demonstrated a dedication to getting it right.


To meet its annual operating budget, VCOG relies on several revenue sources: donations, registration and sponsorships from our conferences and workshops, income from our endowment, and — most importantly — member dues from good folks like you.

We have had a really good year with the first three sources, but our fourth source could use a little love.

Each year we set a goal of how many members of each type — individuals, lawyers, newspapers, TV stations, etc. — we hope will either renew their past membership or will become new members.

So as we count down June’s 30 days, we’re also going to count down how many more new or renewing members we need in each category to meet our goals this year.

If you’ve already renewed this year: THANK YOU. But you can still help us spread the word by forwarding VCOG’s newsletters and information to your friends, families and colleagues.

If you’ve been waiting to join or renew, there’s no better time like the present! Just click here or message me and I will send you an invoice.

MemberCountdown 2

Open government in the news

A Southampton County judge agreed to dismiss one of the pending lawsuits against the Town of Newsoms and acting mayor/vice mayor Harvey Porter on the condition that he resign. The lawsuit was brought on by six residents who were requesting reinstatement of the town’s police department, a permanent injunction prohibiting town council from acting on any matters in a closed meeting and the appointment of a special commissioner to observe town council meetings and audit town accounts.

A judge in the Nicole Lovell case ruled that one of the defendants would not be allowed to film her own preliminary hearing. The judge did not offer an explanation for his order.

Among the formal complaints Petersburg Mayor W. Howard Myers has lodged against Councilwoman Treska Wilson-Smith are allegations that she has has not abided by council rules and policies, including “demanding information directly from city staff,” without working through the city manager’s office.

Seven months after they fatally shot a city man, Harrisonburg police finally released body camera footage of the incident to the media. After he saw the footage, the father of a man shot and killed in September said he was satisfied officers did everything they could, though he remained critical of the length of time the department withheld the video.

Shenandoah County school officials and the sheriff’s office finally agreed on the details for showing a videotape of Strasburg High School students committing acts on a school bus that led to the filing of criminal charges against them. The sheriff had refused to release the video, but a judge ordered him to in April. The video was played during a closed session of the school board.

The Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition filed a FOIA lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court to compel the Department of Environmental Quality to release records related to the regulatory reviews of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline proposals.

Martinsville City Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge criticized the council for not having publicly discussed an agreement with the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. that will enable the city to pay the organization less money in exchange for giving up a seat on its board. "That’s the definition of a back-room deal," Hodge said.

York County School Division Chair Dr. Robert George said he “resented” negative feedback from citizens about the board’s alleged lack of transparency in filling a board seat left vacant by the sudden death of a board members.  ”I don't need a community member or a newspaper reporter to tell us if we're acting legally," George said.

Hanover Supervisor Sean M. Davis filed a $1.35 million defamation suit against Landmark Media Enterprises LLC and Peter Galuszka over an article Davis claims contained false information and tarnished his reputation. The story suggested Davis had had teachers suspended or disciplined “if they present ideas or images that Davis considers too liberal.”

The McAuliffe administration refused reporters’ requests for a list of the names of ex-felons whose voting rights he restored. The State Board of Elections refused to release the list, citing an exemption for “records about individuals” maintained in the state’s “voter registration system,” even though almost none of the people on the list had registered to vote at the time.

A judge in Richmond ruled in favor of Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in his lawsuit to prise loose emails from George Mason University. Horner has been seeking records that show the Union of Concerned Scientists urging GMU professors to push for state-level charges against climate-change deniers.

The Daily Press in Newport News and The Roanoke Times were honored jointly as winners of the 2016 Associated Press Media Editors Innovation in Journalism First Amendment Award for their work in accessing and using court case records the Virginia Supreme Court’s Office of the Executive Secretary has refused to release.

The Portsmouth City Council went into closed session to discuss litigation relating to the relocation of the Confederate monument. Councilman Bill Moody objected to discussing the monument in closed session, arguing there wasn't actually any pending litigation.

Ed Oyer, a James City County citizen who estimates he’s been to around 600 meetings of the board of supervisors since 1973, was honored by the board at its May 24 meeting. The current supervisors dedicated a plaque in his honor where he usually sits in the board room.

The new safety commission that Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are setting up to oversee the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority won’t be subject to any of those jurisdictions’ public records laws, according to a draft of the compact.

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