Transparency News 10/10/13


Thursday, October 10, 2013
State and Local Stories


As a proud native Bostonian, E.W. Jackson, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, has repeatedly touted his service as the chaplain for his hometown’s major league baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. But according to the Baseball Chapel, the sole authority responsible for the appointment and oversight of all team chapel leaders, there is no record of such service by Jackson.

A Roanoke County supervisor has submitted an application to become the county’s next public information officer, a move that will require him to resign his elected position on the board of supervisors should he be hired for the government job. Two fellow supervisors confirmed Tuesday that they had received phone calls from Supervisor Butch Church, who represents the Catawba District, letting them know of his intent. Both said they were shocked by the news. “It surprised me when he told me he was going to apply,” said Supervisor Richard Flora. “I never thought he would voluntarily give up his board of supervisors seat.” Church declined to comment about his application, citing it as a county personnel matter.
Roanoke Times

A panel of judges in Alexandria, Va., heard an appeal Wednesday that will determine whether Yelp will have to reveal identifying information of anonymous commenters. Hadeed Carpet Cleaning sued anonymous Yelp commenters in July 2012, alleging defamation and conspiracy to defame. Hadeed then subpoenaed Yelp seeking the names of those people, who had anonymously written negative reviews on the cleaning service’s Yelp profile. The suit targeted authors of seven specific reviews, alleging that the authors were not actually Hadeed Carpet customers. Yelp’s Terms of Services and Content Guidelines require that reviewers are customers of the business they are reviewing.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

A chaotic episode erupted in the Virginia gubernatorial race late Wednesday, as The Associated Press published and then retracted a story that said court documents alleged Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe had lied to a federal official. AP sent a news alert at 9:45 p.m. that read “Court records: McAuliffe lied to postal inspector investigating RI death benefits scam,” followed by a story. The story said McAuliffe’s campaign had not responded to requests for comment. The campaign swiftly denied the story to NBC 12 in Richmond, a response it confirmed to POLITICO. The AP issued a rare withdrawal notice for the story at 11:25 p.m. — a major blow to an organization that distributes news to member organizations worldwide, many of which post alerts and stories to the Web almost instantaneously, potentially prolonging the lifespan of any error.

National Stories

For the third time in six months, a state board has ruled that Baltimore's government engaged in closed-door meetings that violated Maryland's transparency law. In an opinion released this week, the Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled that the Baltimore Development Corp., which recommends tax breaks for developers and other land deals to the mayor, broke the law by meeting in closed session on July 25 and failing to inform the public of the reasons. The ruling came in response to a complaint filed by the Baltimore Business Journal, which was barred from the meeting.
Baltimore Sun

The Journal News filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Putnam County, N.Y., for twice denying the paper access to the county’s records for registered pistol permit holders. The Journal News tried to attain the pistol permit records through Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests, according to a article written by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, but Putnam County officials refused the information and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell calls a potential release of the information, “an exposure of our residents.” The first FOIL request was submitted by the Journal News December 17, 2012 and the second was submitted May 23, 2013, according to the Putnam County Clerk’s office.
Hudson Valley Reporter

A FOIA bid by the folks at the Electronic Privacy Information Center for documents held by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has fallen short. In a 14-page decision, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg upheld the ODNI's withholding of 21 documents. EPIC had requested "guidelines describing how the National Counterterrorism Center retrieves and safeguards information from other federal agencies."

A former state IT specialist who is a key player behind the ethics questions swirling around Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said in an interview that he altered and removed dozens of documents in the governor’s case file as an investigation into his potential campaign problems was pending.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Daily Press: In the course of a preliminary hearing to a murder trial last week, a Newport News judge granted a request by the prosecution to prohibit media from publishing the names of witnesses who had testified against the defendant. The Daily Press filed a motion challenging the judge's ruling, and within a couple of days the commonwealth dropped its request to seal the witnesses' names. This outcome is a victory for anyone who values transparency, freedom of the press and open access to public information. Some readers misunderstood the Daily Press' motivation in opposing the motion, and they took exception. It is a complex element of a troubling court case, so we will explain what was at stake.

Virginian-Pilot: State elections officials have told local registrars to remove names from their voter rolls based on data from an information-sharing program used by 26 states. According to the program, some 57,000 voters have registered to cast ballots in Virginia and other states. If all of those voters were, indeed, ineligible to vote in Virginia, they should be kicked off the roll. But all of them are not. And that's why the Democratic Party of Virginia has turned to the courts to block the effort.

John Long, Roanoke Times: A few years ago, my sister received a jury duty notice addressed to the home of our parents. Funny thing was that she had been married and lived out of state for more than a decade before receiving the summons. I called the appropriate office to report this and was advised to also call the local registrar — she’d probably been picked because she was still on the voter rolls despite voting for years in another state. Only a few weeks ago, I opened a letter by mistake that was addressed to a previous resident of my house — at least two owners ago, in fact. He was being removed from the voter roll because, it had been discovered, he was simultaneously registered in another state. Of course, he never saw the letter, since I had no way to forward it to wherever he is. These episodes illustrate some of the complexity of maintaining accurate voter rolls in a highly mobile society. It’s a difficult thing to do, and doing it perfectly is probably beyond the realm of possibility. Still, I think anyone will agree that we must do the very best we can to be sure every vote counts and every vote is legitimate.

Robert M. Williams Jr., Times-Dispatch: I know of newspapers that kept their communities informed about clean water and shelter during terrible storms and disasters. I know of newspapers that exposed crooks, lost a lot of advertising from the crooks’ buddies and still put out a paper every week.  know of publishers who took pay cuts during the recession rather than cut staff. I know of publishers who lost everything in a lightning strike but had such a dedicated crew the readers got the paper next week — on time. I know of editors who have been screamed at, vilified and afraid for their children’s safety because they wrote the tough truth. I know of reporters who risked life and limb in war zones and came back to tell the community of their troops’ bravery. All of this has happened in the past couple of years. And people say newspapers are dead? Come on, people. Have a brain.

Dick Hammerstrom, Free Lance-Star: Excuse me while I slip away from open-government issues for a moment and take up another matter-—a First Amendment dispute that should be watched closely by many in Fredericksburg. It’s about a case on the U.S. Supreme Court docket this term involving prayer at town meetings of Greece, N.Y., a town of about 96,000 in western New York State, just outside Rochester and close to Lake Ontario. The nine justices of the Supreme Court will decide whether Christian prayers recited at the beginning of town meetings run afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of the government establishment of religion. The appeals court thinks they breach the prohibition, which is why the town appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tom Jackman, Washington Post: The fight by a conservative legal group and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William) to obtain the e-mails written by leading climate change scientist Michael E. Mann while he was at the University of Virginia was shot down by a judge in Prince William County last year. But Marshall and the legal group appealed, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to take the case and rule on whether the state’s Freedom of Information Act exempts unpublished academic research from being disclosed to the public, even after it’s been concluded or has been released elsewhere. Retired Arlington County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sheridan ruled for U.Va. in September 2012, but only did so orally from the bench. Following further briefing, Sheridan in April of this year entered an order that Mann’s e-mails were public record, as a state employee, but that the FOIA exemption arose “from the concept of academic freedom and from the interest in protecting research. Specifically, early research is protected for a variety of reasons. The concept of the churn of intellectual debate, evolving research, suddenly going up a dead end in your paths of inquiry, having the ability to come back, all this is part of the intellectual ferment that is protected.”