Sunshine Report for October 2013


The Sunshine Report: Online
Transparency news from the
Virginia Coalition
for Open Government
  October 2013

In this issue

FOIA Council steps up

Lt. Gov. proposes FOIA reform

RTD's Public Square

VCOG's annual conference line-up

Open government in the news

Recently on VCOG Blog

Coalition News

FracturedChipWoodrum 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.

Board member heads to sunny Florida
VCOG sadly bid farewell to board member Mark Caramanica. Mark was the FOI Director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and had been on the board for nearly two years. Mark accepted a job at the media law firm of Thomas & LoCicero in Tampa. Good luck, Mark! And thanks.

FOIA from both sides of the aisle
VCOG Executive Director Megan Rhyne appeared with representatives from Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Montgomery County governments to talk about FOIA and government transparency in an event sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County.

Public Square in Richmond
VCOG Executive Director Megan Rhyne will be appearing with Richmond Times-Dispatch's Politics Editor Andrew Cain at the RTD's 48th Public Square discussion on gifts and transparency. See details below.

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FOIA Council steps up

At its Sept. 12 meeting, the FOIA Council took two encouraging steps toward open government in Virginia.

In one instance, the council unanimously recommended that the State Corporation Commission, Del. Scot Surovell (D-Mount Vernon) and interested stakeholders work together to find mutually agreeable language that would subject at least some of the records or functions of the commission to FOIA. A council subcommittee had previously refused to make such a recommendation, but the full council backtracked. VCOG spoke in favor of the change, noting that similar agenices in other states are subject to their state open records law to some degree. Read a detailed recap of the council deliberations in Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

In the other instance, the council refused to take up the invitation of Hanover County Attorney Sterling Rives and Del. Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) to further study Hanover’s suggestion to change FOIA to allow more than two members of a board to talk public business without it being an open meeting under FOIA. Rives told the council that sometimes officials don’t like to talk about controversial issues in public. 
"The setting is not conducive to throwing out different ideas and debating each other on those ideas. As we might do in a private setting, you come up with all these ideas and then five minutes later you say 'Oh no, that was stupid, let's not do that,'" he said. To which, Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Stafford), chair of the council quipped, "I do it every day when we're in session." Despite the council's disinterest in the idea, Hanover Board Chair W. Canova Peterson IV told The Herald Progress he will continue pushing for change, calling the decision the "first discussion" of the issue, even though the issue was first raised at least as far back as September 2012.

Lieutenant Governor proposes FOIA reform, more

On the last day of September, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling and his Virginia Mainstream Project released a series of proposals designed to "improve the structure and operation of Virginia's state government," according to a news release on Bolling's website. Among the proposals is one to require the FOIA Council to review all current FOIA exemptions "and make recommendations on which exemptions should be removed or amended in order to ensure that Virginia has the fairest open government standards."

Bolling also endorsed a two-term governorship, a full-time lieutenant governor, the establishment of a government performance review commission, merit-based judicial selection, a change in the budget cycle and bipartisan redistricting.

In proposing the FOIA review, Bolling noted that in the 14 years since he reworked FOIA (in conjunction with the late Del. Chip Woodrum), "the General Assembly has added numerous exemptions . . . , all of which have made it more difficult for citizens to get access to information they should be entitled to." 

VCOG's Annual Conference - Register TODAY!

We have a spectacular group of speakers and panelists lining up for VCOG's annual conference, which is slated for Dec. 6, at the Williamsburg Community Building.

Our keynote speaker is f
ormer U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Virginia Secretary of Technology Aneesh Chopra, talking about government technology and the promise of open data.

Panels will focus on Virginia's gifts and disclosure laws, ethics, transparency and "The Virginia Way.
  • Benson Dendy, Vectre Corporation
  • Waldo Jaquith, Open Virginia
  • Dr. Quentin Kidd, Christopher Newport University
  • Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
  • Bob Lewis, The Associated Press
  • Vivian Paige, Political observer and columnist
  • Brian Schoeneman, Bearing Drift
  • Ginger Stanley, Virginia Press Association
  • Julian Walker, Virginian-Pilot
  • Gordon Witkin, Center for Public Integrity
Early-bird registration runs through Oct. 15, so register today!

To nominate someone for VCOG's annual FOI-open government awards for citizens, media and government, fill out the form here.

Open government in the news

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors said it will appeal the district court judge's ruling forbidding sectarian prayers before public meetings. The board's  chair, Marshall Ecker, who drew statewide attention when he said he was"tak[ing] a stand for Jesus" by supporting the appeal, passed away unexpectedly Sept. 26....Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) reached a compromise over McEachin's request for communications betwee the AG and Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. In exchange for a longer time frame in which to respond, the AG's office agreed to reduce the hourly rate for searching for the records from $54 to $25.....A general district court judge in Suffolk dismissed four actions brought by a city criticregarding the city’s compliance with FOIA....The Virginia Supreme Court will hear an appeal brought by the American Tradition Institute and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Manassas) over UVa's refusal to release emails of former professor and climate scientist Michael Mann....The Virginia Supreme Court heard oral arguments Sept. 9 in a case brought by a Charlottesville TV station arguing the judge erred in barring cameras from recording the sentencing phase of George Huguely's case after he was convicted of murder....The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled Sept. 18 that when a police officer "liked" the Facebook page of a candidate for sheriff it was "the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign on one's front yard" and deserved First Amendment protection. The ruling thus revived the officer's lawsuit against the incumbent sheriff, his former employer, for wrongful termination....The York County Board of Supervisors received some heat over a series of two-by-two meetings requested by a local oil refinery to discuss furture plant operations. Though legal under FOIA, VCOG questioned the wisdom of having such meetings arranged by county staff and held at county buildings.....Following a UVa report that found many police departments had not developed policies on written procedures for eyewitness identification, the News & Advance asked six Lynchburg-area jurisdictions for their policies. One of the six did not have any policy, and two of them would not disclose the policies they had.


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