Transparency News 10/12/18



October 12, 2018


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state & local news stories


"On leaving Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting a local resident was overheard to remark, 'This is the cheapest circus in town.' Said another: 'They should sell popcorn.'"

Embattled Bristol City Councilman Doug Fleenor asked another council member to buy him out and he would leave council and the city, according to the amended notice of intent filed against him. The notice was released this afternoon after substitute Judge David Melesco ruled "the public absolutely has a right to know" why the Bristol Virginia City Council wants to remove Fleenor. "On Aug. 13,2018, you [Fleenor] had a phone call with Councilman Wingard and you stated on at least three occassions (paraphrasing) that if Councilman Wingard would pay you $325,000 for the corner lot and a couple other lots [Fleenor and his family own] that you would leave Bristol. You further stated that Wingard could buy you out and you would leave tomorrow and you can pick who goes on City Council. You stated, "I want the f... out of Bristol.'" The notice also details the number of frequency of Fleenor missing council and committee meetings.
Bristol Herald Courier

The Chesterfield School Board last week informed the Board of Supervisors that it is withdrawing from a joint committee formed two years ago as a venue for elected officials to publicly discuss budget, audit and operational topics with their respective staffs. Erbach said in an email last week that the committee “will ensure greater transparency by allowing the School Board and leadership team to focus solely on school division responsibilities.” Dorothy Jaeckle, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, called the School Board’s decision “a shame” and “really disappointing.” “They’re sending a message that they don’t want transparency because that’s what comes out of those [audit and finance] meetings,” she added. “It seems like they’re afraid to be challenged with tough questions.”
Chesterfield Observer

More than 6,000 unread emails. Dozens of fraud hotline tips, some more than three years old, where investigations were started but never completed. Audits left unfinished for so long that they're out of date and may need to be redone. These are just some of the things that Norfolk’s interim auditor found when she was appointed in September following the firing of long-time city auditor John Sanderlin. In a report to the City Council late last month, interim auditor Tammie Dantzler described an office seemingly in a state of neglect. She detailed piles of unfinished work, low employee morale and an office lacking some of the fundamental things an auditor needs to perform its duties – including the very document that gives the office the authority to force city employees to hand over information.
The Virginian-Pilot

The Charlottesville Human Rights Commission is concerned with the nature of its job and its membership, but Charlottesville city councilors said Thursday that they aren’t sure why the issues aren’t being voiced. The majority of a joint meeting between the two panels on Thursday was spent with members of the commission and council expressing concerns with the work of the other. Commissioner Ann Smith was the only member of the nine sitting appointees to the 11-member panel to attend. She said two people are resigning because of personal issues and a third will be asked to step down after not attending any meetings. The third person teaches out of state on Thursdays, the day the commission meets, Smith said, and council needs to do a better job vetting candidates. Councilors said they couldn’t have done anything different because the applicant didn’t mention being unavailable for meetings. Interim City Manager Mike Murphy said more staff would be necessary for the commission to provide extensive feedback to council on agenda items or other issues before it.
The Daily Progress

At its second meeting the week on Thursday, the Charlottesville Police Civilian Review Board presented a draft of its initial bylaws and clarified its mission statement. Since its first meeting in August, the board has struggled with determining its scope. As members learned about Freedom of Information Act and the limitations on the initial CRB, they expressed frustrations with a perceived inability to gather data. “We’ve gotten some conflicting messages from the city about the work we’re supposed to be doing,” said Board member Sarah Burke. The inability to collect data will make it hard to determine what powers the board should have, members said, because without data from the community it will be hard to know what their role should be.
The Daily Progress

On leaving Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting a local resident was overheard to remark, “This is the cheapest circus in town.” Said another: “They should sell popcorn.” Both the afternoon and evening sessions of the meeting were punctuated with arguments, raised voices, interruptions, accusations, and anger — certain board members and county citizens alike. Ironic, or maybe timely, as one of the agenda items in the evening session was a discussion about adopting a code of conduct for county officials. And a certain name seemed to dominate the proceedings — David Konick, a local lawyer recently called out for allegedly making lewd, insulting, and threatening remarks to several county citizens. He also represents Gid Brown Hollow resident Marian Bragg in two suits against the BOS alleging violations of the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), one of which will likely result in Rappahannock County taxpayers paying tens of thousands of dollars (see Bragg’s letter to the editor on page 4) in attorney fees.
Rappahannock News


national stories of interest

When Larry Young started requesting records from police, he just wanted to find out what had happened to his daughter, Molly. More than six years after the 21-year-old was found shot to death in her ex-boyfriend’s Carbondale apartment, Young is still fighting law enforcement agencies for records under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. Young’s battle has become a long, often painful example of both the promise and weakness of government-transparency laws in Illinois, including an overwhelmed and inconsistent enforcement system overseen by outgoing Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Police and other government agencies have offered a series of reasons why Young can’t see certain records from the investigations into Molly’s death. At times they’ve claimed the information should remain under wraps to protect the privacy of his daughter, even though she’s dead and he’s the executor of her estate. On other occasions they’ve simply ignored his requests and disregarded four different rulings from the attorney general’s office.
ProPublica Illinois

Metro may be overpaying contractors for frequently purchased goods and services because the transit agency’s purchase order accounting is rife with errors and is missing documents, according to an audit from Metro’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG audited a sample $1.9 million that Metro’s Office of Procurement and Materials spent last year on blanket purchase agreements (BPAs), a type of repeating order agencies use for frequent purchases. All but one of the 45 BPAs inspected were missing documents such as cost estimates and management verification, or had incomplete documents, the OIG reported Thursday to the Metro Board of Directors.
The Washington Times

A lawsuit was filed Thursday against the Department of Veterans Affairs by two groups that allege the agency is unlawfully withholding records that could detail how extensively three members of President Donald Trump’s Palm Beach, Fla., club influenced his veterans policies. VoteVets, a liberal advocacy group, and Democracy Forward, an activist organization that often challenges the Trump administration’s actions, filed the lawsuit in district court in Washington, D.C. The groups sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the VA in September, trying to discover the amount of influence the Mar-a-Lago members have on top-level decisions at the VA. According to the complaint, the VA acknowledged Sept. 17 that it received the FOIA request, but the agency hasn’t produced the records or given a reason for withholding them.
Stars & Stripes

Any Charleston County, South Carolina, School District employee making more than $50,000 a year will now have their salary information made available online. That's after a story we first brought you on ABC News 4. By going public with this salary information, everyone, not just the media, will hold the CCSD board accountable for money spent. CCSD board chair Kate Darby says she hopes that information will be online by the beginning of next week.
ABC News4

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Wednesday sued the federal government for failing to answer his Freedom of Information Act request seeking why Florida — but no other Atlantic seaboard states — was excluded from a plan to expand offshore oil drilling. Grewal, in a suit filed in Washington against the Interior Department, said the federal government offered no information to explain the Florida drilling exemption, announced Jan. 9 by U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the same day he met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The Philadelphia Inquirier

The Massachusetts State Police's effort to get rid of payroll records was "completely consistent with standard operating procedure" but not something they should be doing amid questions of payroll and overtime abuse, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday. Officials with the Massachusetts State Police applied to a state board for permission to destroy three years of the department's payroll records, which is allowable under state law. Records are required to be kept for only six years. The records -- which include boxes of payroll administrative records from 2009 to 2012 and fiscal audit records from 2000 to 2004 -- pertain to Troop F, which patrols Logan Airport. The request came as the Boston Globe reported earlier this year that Troop F hadn't provided payroll records to the state comptroller since 2010.



"The request came as the Boston Globe reported earlier this year that Troop F hadn't provided payroll records to the state comptroller since 2010."


editorials & columns


"Sometimes, the effort produces nothing more than a dry hole. But on other occasions, a gusher of information can result."

When media outlets make Freedom of Information Act requests to government entities, there are no guarantees of success. Sometimes, the effort produces nothing more than a dry hole. But on other occasions, a gusher of information can result. We would not necessarily call the cache of information gleaned from The Star’s two FOIA requests for correspondence and documents relative to discussion and negotiations between the City of Winchester and Shentel relative to the construction of a cell-phone monopole in a corner of Jim Barnett Park a gusher or mother lode — choose your term of geologic discovery and extraction — but we would say they yielded a nugget or two on which to chew. And we’re not simply speaking of the desired muzzling of outspoken councilor Milt McInturff by council President Bill Wiley.
The Winchester Star

In the past four months, DC Rider has filed two requests under Metro’s version of the Freedom of Information Act, the Public Access to Records Policy, or PARP. But like some critics who say Metro takes forever to respond — or reveals only bits of information when it does — we haven’t had much luck. On June 19 and 20, we asked for police reports for a number of crimes listed on the Metro Transit Police blotter online because we think riders should know about incidents such as sexual assaults, assaults and robberies on trains and buses. “The PARP team” first responded on June 21, saying it does not accept blanket requests for the same types of information, like seeing new police reports every day and that "we are not required to process requests if burdensome.”On June 28, Metro denied the request outright, refusing to make public reports on the crimes affecting riders.
DC Rider, The Washington Post