Sunshine Report or November 2013


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

In this issue

VCOG's annual conference line-up

Onancock man wins second FOIA suit

Recap: RTD's Public Square

SCOVA rules on cameras in court

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.

THANK YOU to those who have contributed as sponsors to VCOG's annual conference.

  • Alpha-Omega Wealth Management
  • The City of Williamsburg
  • Quilts Unlimited
  • Society of Professional Journalists - Virginia Pro Chapter
  • Virginia Lawyers Weekly
  • Virginia Public Access Project
  • Virginia Trial Lawyers Association
  • The Virginian-Pilot
  • World Media Enterprises
  • WTVR-3, Richmond
  • WWBT-12, Richmond

If you'd like to be a corporate or individual donor, please contact Megan Rhyne.

   $ 8,000  BY  DECEMBER  6!  

Public Square discussion on gifts
VCOG Executive Director Megan Rhyne appeared with Virginia Press Association director Ginger Stanley andRichmond Times-Dispatch political correspondentAndrew Cain at the 48th Public Square, sponsored by the RTD. The panel was unexpectedly joined by Richmond lawmakers Sen. Donald McEachin (D) and Del. Jimmie Massie (R), who shared their thoughts on the challenges of reforming the current system and who listened to the small but engaged audience's ideas on what everyone generally agreed was a system in need of a fix.

partial transcript can be found here, and a news story, which includes video of the session, can be found here.

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GRAPHICVCOG's 2013 Annual Conference

Register today for VCOG's annual conference, DECEMBER 6 from 10AM to 4PM at the Williamsburg Community Building (click for map).

Check out our fantastic lineup of panels and speakers:

10AM: Welcome from VCOG’s president Craig Fifer and Williamsburg City Manager Jack Tuttle

10:15: "Lax": Are Virginia’s laws as bad as they say?
Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
Bob Lewis, Virginia politics and government correspondent
Vivian Paige, Political observer
Gordon Witkin, Center for Public Integrity

11:30: Featured speaker
Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Virginia Secretary of Technology

1:30: The Virginia Way: Time for a new path?
Benson Dendy, Vectre Corporation
Waldo Jaquith, Open Virginia
Gordon Morse, Political observer
Ginger Stanley, Virginia Press Association

2:45: Reform: What does the future hold?
Ernie Gates, Stars & Stripes
Quentin Kidd, Christopher Newport University
Brian Schoneman, Bearing Drift
Julian Walker, Virginian-Pilot

VCOG will also present our 2013 open government awards for citizens, media and government.

$30 for VCOG members; $40 for non-members. Price includes lunch and snacks.


Onancock man is 2 for 2 in FOIA suites

The same man who successfully sued the Town of Onancock in 2012 for failure to turn over the employment contract of the then-new town manager has settled another FOIA case with the town, this time over the destruction of a record created by the mayor and circulated to members of the town council asking for their agreement to fire the same town manager.

Charles Landis and Town Attorney John Custis both read statements during an Oct. 28 town meeting. Custis’ statement acknowledged that the record should have been disclosed and that copies of it were destroyed prior to Landis’ request for it.

Custis’ statement went on to state that Landis did not file this second FOIA complaint “as a result of any personal vendetta, but instead because he is a citizen who believes, like all Onancock citizens and all members of this town government, that openness and transparency is the best recipe for good governance,” according to the Demarvanow website.

The town reimbursed Landis the $56 he paid in court costs.

For his part, Landis said he applauded and appreciated the town for resolving the issue. And in comments to VCOG following the settlement, Landis particularly praised Custis for working with him on a mutually agreeable settlement.

SCOVA rules on cameras in the courtroom

In an Oct. 31 ruling upholding a lower court decision, the Virginia Supreme Court said the decision whether to allow cameras into a courtroom lies solely in the discretion of the presiding judge. The relevant statue’s provision that mentions good cause applies only after the decision to allow cameras has been made, and then it applies to the party who opposes the decision.

WVIR NBC29 in Charlottesville brought the case after a trial court denied its request to bring cameras into the sentencing phase for convicted murder defendant George Huguely. The station’s parent company argued before the Supreme Court that the judge’s denial was not supported by good cause entered into the record. The justices’ opinion noted, however, that the judge did explain that he was concerned about the effect on witnesses, many of them college students, and the effect coverage might have on potential witnesses and jurors in a pending civil lawsuit filed by the family of Huguely’s victim, fellow University of Virginia student Yeardley Love.

For the full text of the opinion on VCOG’s website, CLICK HERE.


Open government in the news

The Daily Press successfully challenged an order entered by a juvenile and domestic relations district court judge that forbid the press to publish the names of witnesses who had already testified in open court. The order was an unconstitutional prior restraint....Meanwhile, a Roanoke judge ordered the names and addresses of potential jurors to hear a case against former neo-Nazi William A. White to be kept confidential. White was earlier convicted in Illinois of threatening a juror in a case against another neo-Nazi. Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey, who suspects White of posting violence-fueled messages on Casey’s blog, agreed with the judge’s order, saying, “They [jurors] shouldn’t be targets for this kind of garbage.”....Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said in an opinion to York County Attorney James Barnett that a board of supervisor member’s constituent newsletter may or may not be a public record, depending on the content. But, the AG added, if it is a public record, there is no exemption in FOIA allowing for the email distribution list of the newsletter to be withheld....The Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors decided against going into closed session to interview candidates to appoint to the board in the wake of the board chair’s death in September. Instead, the board held interviews in an open meeting and voted 4-1 on the final pick....As endorsements (and non-endorsements) multiplied across the state’s print media, one for the attorney general’s job was notable for its emphasis on transparency. The Daily Press, calling both candidates “competent, reasonable and respected” and noting they both favor applying FOIA to the AG’s office and the State Corporation Commission, looked at both candidates’ records on other access and transparency issues before picking one as the preferred choice....A member of the Roanoke Board of Supervisors submitted an application to become the county’s next public information officer, though he declined to comment about his intentions, saying it was a county personnel matter....An attorney’s email leaked to the press in James City County revealed a series of planned two-by-two meetings between members of the board of supervisors, the planning commission and representatives for a local developer with a matter pending before the county. The meetings, though legal, nonetheless create “the perception that this is being done to avoid public scrutiny,” said VCOG’s Megan Rhyne....Following a new law that went into effect in July, members of university boards of visitors gathered in October to get training on various issues, including the Freedom of Information Act. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger lamentedthat FOIA prevented boards from having candid discussions....The sheriff's offices of Newport News and Hampton provided dueling public records to show that the other locality was at fault for the mistaken release from a Newport News jail of a man charged with murder. Newport News produced a computer screen shot, while Hampton produced a phone log and both denied any errors on their part.


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