Sunshine Report Newsletter, April 2014

  The Sunshine Report: Online Transparency news from the Virginia Coalition
for Open Government   April 2014

In this issue

Sunshine Week bright

FOIA Council meeting, April 22

Open government in the news

Coalition News

Recently on VCOG Blog

Board meeting
The next meeting of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government Board of Directors is Friday, April 18, in Glen Allen.

On the road
VCOG Executive Director Megan Rhyne was a featured speaker at a conference of the Private Investigators and Security Association in Winchester, March 14.

Woodrum Legislative Internship
Join us in celebrating the legacy of Chip Woodrum by being a part of our effort to endow a student internship for each General Assembly session, where the recipient would learn about and participate in the legislative process. Please keep Chip’s memory alive in our hearts and minds, and in the minds of future generations of leaders.

Stay up to date on access
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FOIA Council meeting
The FOIA Council will meet Tuesday, April 22, at 1:30. It is the first meeting of the council since the General Assembly session and the agenda is a full one, including a legislative recap, a decision on whether future study is warranted for bills referred to the council on out-of-state FOIA requests and FOIA's application to the Attorney General's office, as well as the first steps towards the council's two-year study of FOIA's exemptions. The public is encouraged to attend and participate.

Bullying schools?
School boards and boards of supervisors continued to tussle in March over budgets and financing. Last month we told you about the Shenandoah County supervisor who was told it would cost more than $700 to get salary data from the school district. This month, the Loudoun County School Board sent a letter to the board of supervisors telling them the school board would not respond to their request for more detailed informationabout the school district’s budget. Then, in James City County, some questioned the appropriateness of four school board members’ attendance at a board of supervisors meeting where school funding was discussed.

Greetings, Friend of VCOG!

Sunshine Week was bright!

Did you notice amid those last blasts of winter weather that spring started out especially sunny? That’s because it was Sunshine Week, March 16-22. Built around James Madison's birthday on the 16th, Sunshine Week is a time when access advocates, media outlets and sometimes even government highlight the power and potential of open records and open meetings laws.

The week featured great stories about problems records requesters have getting email, the upcoming review by the FOIA Council of FOIA's 172+ exemptions, and the more and more prevalent use of two-by-two meetings, also known as daisy chain, serial meetings and Noah's Ark. Meanwhile, the Delmarva Media Group conducted a FOIA compliance audit of localities on the Eastern Shore.

In addition to being quoted in a number of the articles, VCOG Executive Director Megan Rhyne was profiled in aQ&A about VCOG and Sunshine Week. She also participated in an hour-long Twitter conversation withRichmond Times-Dispatch reporters that has been consolidated into a Storify chat.

In conjunction with the City of Williamsburg, local reporters and Williamsburg delegate Monty Mason at the Blue Talon Bistro, VCOG co-sponsored a meet-and-greet about open government with local citizens and town officials. Pictured at the top, from the left, Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, chats with Virginia Gazetteeditor and publisher Rusty Carter. Pictured above, from the left, Adam Steely of the Blue Talon Bistro, Michele Mixner DeWitt, Director of Economic Development for the City of Williamsburg, and Williamsburg's Communications Specialist Kate Hoving. At right, WYDaily's publisher Kim Lenz.

For a round-up of just some of the Sunshine Week op-eds and editorials that appeared, click on the options below.

​Finally, though we first posted these months before Sunshine Week, it's still a pleasure on a beautiful spring day to listen to some songs about more sunny days ahead. Sunshine Playlist Part 1, and Part 2

Open government in the news

A district court judge in Madison County ruled that a county administrator’sperformance review was a personnel record that didn’t have to be disclosed to two former county board supervisors, even though the review wasn’t shared with them while they were still in office....Before it was finally released to the public on March 27, the state inspector general refused to disclose a report completed March 10 on how Austin Creigh “Gus” Deeds' case was handled by state and local mental health services. The IG said he was withholding the report at the request of the state police, though he could not cite any legal justification for doing so....The Library of Virginia has published a video on YouTube on the proper destruction of electronic records....York County retreated from a retreat in early March when it was revealed that the only notice of the retreat was given at the adjournment of the previous regularly called meeting, though most of the public had already left. A provision in the Code of Virginia’s title on counties, cities and towns allows for adjournment from one meeting to the next, but board Chair Don Wiggins said postponing the retreat was “the right thing to do.”....Different counties, different departments, different approaches to fees. When the Delmarva Media Group sought records from Eastern Shore localities as part of a compliance audit in advance of Sunshine Week, the Accomack County superintendent said it would cost between $349 and $698 to compile overtime totalsfor employees in 2013. Meanwhile, in Northampton County, there was no charge for providing overtime totals, travel-related expenses for all members of the board of supervisors for 2013 and certain procurement documents. And, the Northampton response was mailed a day after the request....A Newport News circuit court judge ruled in early March that jurors in the death penalty trial of a man accused of stabbing his wife and her three kids, and setting their bodies on fire, would remain anonymous.Jurors were referred to by number, and only court staff were allowed access to their names and personal information. The judge’s order did not specify what the “good cause” was for anonymizing the jurors’ names, nor did lawyers on either side request such an order....The State Board of Elections quietly changed the deadline for when campaign finance reports should be filed, pushing it back from 5 p.m. on the due date to 11:59 p.m. According to SBE officials, the move was made to accommodate late filers. One effect, however, is that the reports will not be public until after most press deadlines. Board member Donald Palmer defended the move in an op-ed in The Roanoke Times....The Town of Ashland unveiled its new “OpenGov” online platform that, when completed, will visually display exactly how the town is spending local tax dollars....Richmond County supervisor John Haynes bristled at the suggestion that citizens for other counties, including neighboring ones, be allowed to comment at board meetings since many of them, including business owners, pay taxes to the county. “I am a Richmond County Supervisor and this whole concept of us not having sovereignty and other people coming in and telling us how to run our county, I don’t like it and I think it’s a really bad idea,” Haynes said.