Sunshine Report for November 2018

Virginia Coalition for Open Government
The Sunshine Report
November 2018
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Bob O'Neil in memoriam
ONeil_Tribute_38_DAVCOG marked with sadness the passing of its founding board president Bob O'Neil. Bob was the founding director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression, and also a past president of the University of Virginia. 

What I always admired about Bob was his ability to synthesize the comments made during a wide-ranging discussion. While presiding over the board meetings, he allowed for just enough discussion, knowing when to step to present a summary and the options offered. He didn't often impose his will, but the way he framed the options often suggested the best course of action.

After his retirement from the TJCenter, he went on to work for the American Association of University Professors. We found ourselves on opposite sides of a panel discussion about access to professors' emails. Always a believer in the free flow of ideas, he was so gracious and so kind in his disagreement that he somehow made me feel (even if it wasn't actually true) that my arguments had carried the day.

He was so smart, so eloquent, and just such a nice guy. He paid dues and an extra gift donation every year of VCOG's existence. He will be missed.
- Megan Rhyne
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FOIA, records access and the courts
A retired judge designated to sit in the Richmond Circuit Court ruled Oct. 15 that FOIA did not apply to the judiciary, including the Office of Executive Secretary. The judge said the ruling was supported by the statute itself, as well as the constitutional separation of powers doctrine and sovereign immunity. The judge did not provide any legal analysis for these conclusions, but said instead that he was convinced by the reasons given by OES in the oral arguments and its filings in the case.

Read VCOG's take on the case and why it matters.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued a press release Oct. 19 announcing a proposal for "new rules related to access to judicial records." The public is invited to submit comments on the proposed rules through Dec. 3. Send them to or to:

Patricia L. Harrington, Clerk
Supreme Court of Virginia
100 N. 9th St., 5th Floor
Richmond VA  23219

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Open government: training on the road
As of press time today, 271 people have registered to log on to VCOG's FOIA and records management webinar scheduled for Nov. 13. That number only tells part of the story. We got word from one county that though only one person has registered, they plan to gather all records officers across the county in one room to view the presentations -- given by Megan Rhyne (FOIA) and the Library of Virginia's Glenn Smith (records management) -- together. Surveys of past events have confirmed that the practice is not at all unusual.

Registration for this free webinar will be open through Nov. 11. The public and press, in addition to government employees, are invited.

Register here.

In addition to the webinar, VCOG's Megan Rhyne will also be giving presentations this month to Henrico citizens at the Libbie Mill Public Library (Nov. 1) and to a Loudoun parents' education group at the Ashburn Library (Nov. 14). Rhyne will also begin a three-day course at the William & Mary Christopher Wren Association on how to monitor the General Assembly and government through use of the Legislative Information System, the Virginia Public Access Project's website and FOIA (Nov. 12 and 26, Dec. 3).
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Open government
in the news
Charlottesville declined to release the agreement between it and its former police chief after it was learned the chief, who retired in December 2017 amid criticism over his handling of the Aug. 12 rally, would remain on the payroll through July 15, 2019.

The current Charlottesville police chief said she could not release updated data on police stop-and-frisk interactions because it was still being extracted from new software, adding that the data is now collected in a more context-rich fashion. Nonetheless, she surprised board members and those in the audience alike when she presented that data at the tail-end of board of supervisors meeting. Nothing on the agenda indicated such a report would be made.

The City of Roanoke again voted to ask for legislation to allow localities to bar firearms in places where a local governing body is meeting.

Norfolk residents wondered why the police did not send out a press release on a murder-suicide in a historic, upscale neighborhood as it does for other killings in the community. The police told the department's public information officers about the incident, but that department did not provide basic information when WTKR and The Virginian-Pilot asked about it.

After operating for several months under a sign that said the "public shall not film, videotape or otherwise electronically records within town hall without expressed (sic) permission," the Boyce Town Council moved the sign to the clerk's desk inside council chambers. The clerk had previously complained that someone with a grudge agains the council was "being kind of disrespectful" and "came to interrupt the meeting."

A review of records obtained under FOIA by the Register & Bee revealed that Danville had spent $1.78 million in the past five years for 30 consultants' reports on various projects.

Members of the board that oversees Reagan National and Dulles International airports spent roughly $17,000 in travel last year, as compared to $32,000 in 2015 when a policy encouraging more travel was adopted.

Norfolk school officials notified the parents of students and employees whose medical information was publicly disclosed in school crisis plans online for a year until August. After staff and attorneys reviewed the plans, the district identified a total of 308 students and staff who were referenced in the school crisis plans from the past two years, although only about half of those individuals had their information shared publicly.

Virginia officials refused to release information about why five of the 51 entities that applied for a medical marijuana dispensary license were chosen, nor why the remaining 46 were not. An anonymous score sheet was released before the awards were made, but the names of companies that applied still hadn't been revealed.

Officials in the Town of Round Hill informed the public that it had suffered a data breach and a destruction of electronic records.

At the October meeting of the FOIA Council, Del. Glenn Davis -- a council member -- proposed a that public university and college boards should allow for public comment at meetings where tuition increases are discussed. The council agreed it was logical to require such comment but decided to hold off on advancing a formal proposal to give the schools time to adopt such a "best practice."

The University of Virginia Police Department agreed to release a transparency report on the department, including information on the race and gender and education backgrounds of all department supervisors, to the department's website. The website will also include updated officer names, photos, emails, office locations and phone numbers.

A Norfolk judge issued a gag order in a murder case that covered not just the parties to the case but also the spokeswoman for the prosecutor.

The chairman of the Hopewell Republican Committee filed a FOIA lawsuit against the city’s general registrar, alleging the registrar failed to provide public record information that is required by the Election Code. The chair withdrew his suit soon after receiving the information, which was the political affiliation of each officer working city voting precincts.

Using crime data requested from the Richmond Police Department, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that in 2017 there was a small uptick in criminal incidents on nights when the moon was full. A similar uptick was observed on Halloween night in 2017.
FOIA Council opinions

All opinions issued by the FOIA Council so far this year have been posted to VCOG's opinions archive
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FOI awards

VCOG is seeking nominations for its annual FOI awards.

Click here for more.

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VCOG luanches FOI Slack channel

VCOG is rolling out a Slack channel for Virginia FOIA. Read our guidelines and join. Share your FOIA requests or discuss such topics as open meetings, fees, enforcement and datasets.

Click here to read our guidelines and join our Slack channel.

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VCOG is participating in the AmazonSmile program, where Amazon donates .5% of your order total to the charitable organization of your choice.

Click here to select VCOG as your AmazonSmile charity.
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Save the date

November 27
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VCOG is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. TIN 54-1810687
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540-353-8264 • vcog@opengovva.or