Transparency News 10/21/13


Monday, October 21, 2013
State and Local Stories


The Times-Dispatch held its 48th Public Square on the evening of Oct. 8 at the paper’s downtown office. The topic: “Too much give and take? Should Virginia ban or limit gifts to politicians?” A small but deeply engaged audience provided one of the most impressive conversations we’ve heard at any Public Square.Comments from the audience were accompanied by insights from our expert panel: Ginger Stanley, executive director of the Virginia Press Association; Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government; and Andrew Cain, politics editor at The Times-Dispatch. The discussion was enlivened and informed by the gracious contributions of two local state legislators, Republican Del. Jimmie Massie and Democratic Sen. Donald McEachin. Both men came to the Public Square to listen but graciously accepted the invitation from Times-Dispatch Publisher Tom Silvestri, the moderator, to move to the front of the room and help lead the conversation. Their expertise and honesty were much appreciated. Today, we publish highlights. To view the entire Public Square, go

A federal judge on Friday rejected an effort by the Virginia Democratic Party to restore more than 38,000 names to the state’s voter rolls that it claimed were possibly purged in error, saying the evidence did not convince him that anyone had been disenfranchised. “I just don’t find that there’s a strong showing here of any inequitable treatment or the deprivation of anyone’s rights,” U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton said as he denied the Democrats’ request.
Washington Post

A series of internal county and police emails released this week through the Freedom of Information Act shows a widening rift between law enforcement and James City County supervisor Jim Kennedy over patrols and controlling rowdy behavior in New Town. The boiling point came following an incident in front of Kennedy's restaurant on Friday, Oct. 4. Kennedy called police after a teenager unzipped his pants, exposed his genitals and suggested a sexual act to another teen, prompting a fight. Dozens more quickly gathered to watch, he and witnesses said.
Virginia Gazette

The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the late 1990s after hearing claims that the group was planning an anthrax attack, FBI documents obtained by the group show. According to the documents, FBI investigators were told that PETA planned to release anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Washington, D.C. PETA obtained the documents earlier this year through a Freedom of Information Act request and provided them to The Virginian-Pilot after the newspaper requested them, the newspaper reported Sunday.

State officials will accept written comments through Dec. 6 on the commonwealth’s six-year improvement program of the Commonwealth Transportation Board and Virginia Department of Transportation. The plan will guide funding of projects from fiscal 2015, which begins next July, to fiscal 2021.
Sun Gazette

Former Halifax County Sheriff Stanley Noblin received a term of 10 months in jail Thursday morning at his sentencing hearing in Halifax. Noblin, convicted in July of embezzling sheriff’s department funds intended to go towards drug and crime fighting efforts, entered the Halifax Courthouse trailing a procession of friends and family members, including his wife and children. He gave an emotional statement in court, saying he had embarrassed himself and loved ones by stealing funds as sheriff. Whereas once he was known as a lifelong lawman, said Noblin, now "my title is thief.”

National Stories

The Washington state supreme court ruled Thursday in an 8-1 decision that a governor can withhold certain documents involved with policymaking under the state's public records law. The justices agreed with a trial court that then-governor Christine Gregoire was correct when she claimed an executive communications privilege that allowed her to withhold certain documents from the Freedom Foundation. The Washington-based educational research organization sought 11 documents from the governor involving negotiations to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle, the Columbia River Biological Opinion and proposed marijuana legislation, according to court documents. The governor handed over five documents and a portion of a sixth but refused to disclose the rest. The Foundation sued Gregoire under the Public Records Act.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

The Indiana Attorney General's Office has asked the Indiana Supreme Court to hear the appeal of a judge's ruling that cause of death information is not public record. “In short, our office advocates that local death certificates are a public record that the public should be able to obtain,” said Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the attorney general. The legal brief filed by the Attorney General's Office argues that the court decision goes against state policy on public records. “The Access to Public Records Act requires courts to liberally construe its provisions to fully implement the State's policy for open access to public records,” it said.
Evansville Courier & Press

Maurice Cheeks expressed regret and admitted embarrassment over last month’s police investigation involving the Pistons coach and a 45-year-old woman. The Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges, but details regarding the incident became public when the investigation report was released Friday under the Freedom of Information Act. “No. 1, there’s always a little bit of embarrassment when something like that happens, right or wrong, there’s always some embarrassment,” Cheeks said Saturday at the Pistons practice facility. “For myself, who has always prided himself on being a high character person, it definitely is an embarrassment. “But it happened, right or wrong, and I’m moving on.”
Detroit Free Press

The U.S. National Security Agency failed to install the most up-to-date anti-leak software at a site in Hawaii before contractor Edward Snowden went to work there and downloaded tens of thousands of highly classified documents, current and former U.S. officials told Reuters. Well before Snowden joined Booz Allen Hamilton last spring and was assigned to the NSA site as a systems administrator, other U.S. government facilities had begun to install software designed to spot attempts by unauthorized people to access or download data.

There's now a site that can help you in your quest to discover what spiritual lurkers might waft around your house. It's called And it exists in order to tell you if someone once ceased existing within your walls. DiedInHouse claims to search all 50 states for evidence of expiration. It promises something called a "certified report."


Daily Progress: Both sides are making hay out of a state inspector general’s report on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s non-involvement regarding improper actions by one of his assistants. Such is politics, when a non-partisan report can be trumpeted by both sides as a win.

Virginia GazetteThe lengths to which applicants interested in doing business in the Historic Triangle will go to avoid public input seems astounding. Whether it's private meetings in the York County administrator's board room, or one-on-one visits with James City County officials at work, there's a disturbing pattern of divulging as little as possible until a project is sure to be approved – and it's too late for the public to effectively challenge it. Since the practice is legal, it will continue. But here's what leaders in York and James City counties can do to give some semblance of governing in the open.

Virginian-Pilot: So, over a period of three years, a senior assistant attorney general in Cuccinelli's office repeatedly fired off emails to lawyers representing energy companies, including one that donated big bucks to her boss' political campaign. The companies were fighting southwestern Virginia landowners over royalties to coalbed methane. Yet a senior assistant attorney general used taxpayer-funded resources to provide legal advice and information to be used against Virginians. The situation begs an answer to how that could've happened, not to mention how it could've happened for more than two years without her supervisors knowing.

Bob Gibson, Sorensen Institute: General Assembly members know they are expected to satisfy a public demand for ethics reform, but the task of adopting strong ethics laws has been resisted in the past.The legislature generally spends a lot of time on laws and not so much on ethics. Next year may be different.