Transparency News 10/11/17

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

State and Local Stories

After a progressive political group used Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain thousands of college students’ cellphone numbers for campaign purposes, two Virginia Republicans have vowed to stop third-party groups from obtaining student data. Dels. Joseph Yost, R-Pearisburg, and Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, have devised legislation that would exempt students’ contact information, like cellphone numbers and addresses, from public directories unless students explicitly agree to make their data publicly available. The delegates plan to file the legislation ahead of the 2018 General Assembly session, but both first have to face Democratic challengers in the Nov. 7 election.
The Roanoke Times

Lawmakers dissatisfied with answers about whether the state’s top watchdog agency should be able to investigate jail deaths have requested a top-to-bottom review of the Office of the State Inspector General. Members of the General Assembly’s own watchdog, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, on Tuesday added the executive branch agency to a list of entities awaiting scrutiny with the passage of a resolution stressing the need to clarify the office’s role and authority. Under terms of the study approved Tuesday, the review commission staff must analyze the agency’s role and authority in inspecting jails and state facilities where people are being held, as well as its ability to investigate significant incidents at the facilities. The review also will evaluate the “effectiveness, efficiency and independence” of the office, which was created five years ago by consolidating the functions of smaller oversight entities that previously existed in other agencies.
Richmond Times-Dispatch

With nearly 100 residents watching in suspense from their theater seats, the Buchanan Town Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to require its town manager to be a full-time resident. The residency requirement in the town charter — and whether to loosen the rule — has drawn so much public attention that recent council meetings have been moved to the town’s Buchanan Theater to accommodate overflow crowds. Since Mary Zirkle was hired as town manager in 2014, she has lived in Bedford County while maintaining a second home in Buchanan. Although a legal opinion at the time found that arrangement sufficient to meet the residency requirement, adjustments to the charter approved by the council Tuesday would require Zirkle to live in Buchanan full-time.
The Roanoke Times

A new security protocol at the Pittsylvania County Courthouse might have violated the state’s freedom of information laws — at least for a brief time. It seems that bailiffs blocked people from bringing cellphones into the courtrooms when doubling as meeting space for the county’s planning commission, where the law allows recording devices. The new security protocols began Oct. 1, which means that all entrances to the historic courthouse have X-ray machines and metal detectors, as well as new signs banning such items as cellphones, often used to record meetings. Before the new security format, however, cellphones garnered little notice from deputies when it came to government meetings. So, several local residents were shocked on Oct. 3 when told by deputies they couldn’t bring their phones, or any other electronic device into the courtroom for that day’s planning commission meeting.
Register & Bee

The New College Foundation stopped paying NCI’s lobbyists in Richmond last December, saying they were unclear about the school’s direction. By June, the group, created to raise money for the school, said they had budgeted nothing for the institute for the upcoming fiscal year and only set aside $1,000 toward its own fundraising efforts. Then in August, NCF Executive Director Deborah Kaufman sent a letter to Del. Chris Jones, chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee, saying the institute’s board of directors had adopted an “adversarial relationship” with the foundation. The letter mentioned that earlier this year, the foundation’s board did not take action on a funding request by NCI’s board “due to the belief that it would be fiscally irresponsible to provide funding without accountability.”
Martinsville Bulletin

A City Hall protest by Solidarity Cville and Standing Up for Racial Justice prematurely ended the regular meeting of the Charlottesville Planning Commission on Tuesday. Their protest began at the start of the commission’s public hearing on a special-use permit for an eight-story building at 201 W. Water St. It ended when Charlottesville police asked everyone to leave first City Council Chambers and then the entirety of City Hall. Initially police were not present at the meeting but arrived after about 10 minutes. Chants and slogans were shouted for another 20 minutes before a police officer announced that everyone — including commissioners and members of City Council — had to leave chambers or be arrested. Protesters and members of the audience complied. It is unclear when another meeting will be scheduled.
Cville Tomorrow

National Stories

To build a wall, you've got to break a few laws. That's the message being sent by a new bill, which helps pave the way for the eventual construction of a border wall byexempting the CBP and US Border Patrol from a large number of federal laws, including the Freedom of Information Act. H.R. 3548 [PDF] would give the CBP a free pass to ignore all sorts of federal restrictions when engaging in its enforcement activities. All the things citizens can't legally do on federal land, the CBP and Border Patrol would be allowed to. This would keep the federal government from getting in its own way in the event wall construction actually takes place, as well as keep CBP agents from worrying about polluting, killing endangered species, or violating sacred grave sites while pursuing undocumented aliens.
Tech Dirt

The D.C. mayor has lost a year-long battle to stave off defeat in a suit testing the enforcement powers in the District’s Open Meetings Act. D.C. Superior Court Associate Judge John M. Campbell ruled September 27 that Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Advisory Commission on Caribbean Community Affairs violated the law by holding half a dozen meetings in 2016 without advance notice or draft agendas for the public and failing to record meetings even after staff were trained and given equipment. Filed in October 2016, the case was the first court action by the Office of Open Government (OOG), an independent agency created by the D.C. Council in the 2011 Act to be the enforcement watchdog. Individual citizens can’t sue for violations of the law, though that would be allowed under the Strengthening Government Transparency bill pending before the Council. Now, only the OOG may seek court enforcement. The Office, represented by outside counsel, asked the court to order the mayor’s commission to obey the laws covering their meetings and pay a fine for each past meeting done improperly.
D.C. Open Government Coalition