Transparency News, 10/14/20


 October 14, 2020
There was no issue of Access News yesterday, Oct. 13.

state & local news stories

“It is not simply that they provide a document in a time frame that’s convenient for them. Under the act, they have five days to respond and they did not.” 
In Staunton, a city council member is taking two others to court. The case is still pending after an initial hearing was continued, but it’s providing insight into potential friction between council members. Staunton Councilwoman Brenda Mead accuses the mayor and vice mayor of breaking the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It all started when she says she didn’t have a document voted on during a September 10 meeting, and later requested it from them. “I got no response. The clerk of council got no response,” stated Mead. “And so ultimately I was forced to make a FOIA inquiry.” Mead says Mayor Andrea Oakes and Vice Mayor Mark Robertson failed to meet the time requirement to provide that document related to a 12-year-old civil suit with Debra Chilton-Belloni over zoning and building code violations. It was unexpectedly added to the agenda at that September meeting. “It is not simply that they provide a document in a time frame that’s convenient for them,” said Mead. “Under the act, they have five days to respond and they did not.” NBC29 reached out to both Mayor Oakes and Vice Mayor Robertson for comment. Oakes' attorney says Mead filed prematurely and did not count correctly, including the day she filed the FOIA request and the weekend. Mead says FOIA applies to her initial request through the city manager. She hopes to recoup her court expenses.

Petersuburg City Manager Aretha R. Ferrell-Benavides said Wednesday morning she still is in the running for the top administrative job in a Chicago suburb and will take part in a Zoom public forum from there Wednesday night "sitting at my dining room table." "Yes, I'm still an active candidate," Ferrell-Benavides said in a phone interview with The Progress-Index when asked point-blank about her status. Ferrell-Benavides, who has been at Petersburg's helm for three years, will have a chance to meet some of Evanston's citizens in a Zoom meeting the city has scheduled with her and the other hopefuls, which includes Evanston's interim city manager. On Thursday, she will take part in a second Zoom meeting where she will be interviewed by a citizens' panel, followed by a third interview with Evanston department heads. 
The Progress-Index
stories from around the country
Officials in South Carolina have been improperly withholding information about millions of dollars in state grants and tax incentives that are handed out to corporations every year, according to a new court order.  Circuit Judge Robert Hood issued a ruling late last week that found the S.C. Department of Commerce was violating the S.C. Freedom of Information Act by keeping details about those economic development deals from the public. The lawsuit, which was filed in Richland County, was focused on economic development deals that South Carolina officials approved for two companies: Viva Recycling, a Moncks Corner business that failed, and Giti Tires, which operates a large plant in Richburg. But the case is likely to have far broader implications for the way Commerce operates and the amount of information it is required to disclose to the public and the media. 
Charleston Post and Courier

Michigan law enforcement is on high alert after the FBI revealed an alleged plot by extremist groups to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also involved a “plan to target and kill police.” Officials said the suspects were attempting to trigger “civil war” with a detailed plan to abduct the governor and attack other elected officials at the Statehouse. Part of the plot included plans to target police. FBI Special Agent Richard J. Trask II cited the risk to law enforcement officers in a criminal complaint filed last Tuesday in U.S. District Court: “The militia group had already been brought to the attention of the FBI by a local police department in March 2020 when members of the militia group were attempting to obtain the addresses of local law enforcement officers,” the filing says. “At the time, the FBI interviewed a member of the militia group who was concerned about the group’s plan to target and kill police officers and that person agreed to become a CHS (confidential human source).”

Security experts say that criminal groups are ramping up attacks on local school districts. In September, hackers breached the system at Virginia's largest school district, the Fairfax County Public Schools. Experts say the attacks are growing for several reasons. "One is that school districts tend to run older equipment and older applications and so they may not be the most up to date and modern," said Doug Levin, founder of the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, which maintains an online database of attacks on districts. Districts also may not have as many resources to put into cyber defenses as private companies do. Another reason is simply money, Levin said. Hackers have launched so-called ransomware attacks, where they hack into a system, shut it down and demand money to unlock it. In other cases, they steal the personal data of both employees and students, which they can sell to identity thieves.

Lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell, the jailed alleged madam to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, asked an appellate court Tuesday to block the release of a transcript of a controversial deposition on grounds it prejudices her right to a fair trial. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard a challenge to a July ruling by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska that there is an overriding public interest in releasing the deposition given by Maxwell in a civil lawsuit settled in 2015. The suit involved Epstein victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who alleged she suffered abuse and sex trafficking by Maxwell and Epstein.


editorials & columns
The problem with automatic expungement is that criminal records are public records, and law-abiding Virginians have a right to know if the person they’re considering hiring, renting a room to, doing business with, or leaving their kids with has a criminal past. A business owner has the right to know if the bookkeeping job applicant was ever convicted of fraud or larceny. A landlord has the right to know if a prospective tenant has a criminal history of selling illegal drugs.
The Free Lance-Star